Project Practitioners > Don't Fall Into the Order Taker Trap

Don't Fall Into the Order Taker Trap

By Ann Drinkwater

Lately I have noticed an increase in businesses and industry experts requesting their customers tell them exactly what they want, how it should be delivered and so on. These businesses range from retailers to highly respected, professional organizations. In general I believe you get what you pay for but have been amazed at how often this seems no longer the case. I'm often surprised that any business, especially a professional service organization would ask their customer to lay things out in such detail.  What ever happened to analysis and being experts in our specialties? When we outsource or call on other organizations, it is often because we don't have the resources, skill set or time. Requesting significant detail and planning from our customers, puts much of the burden back on them and adds risk to our projects. We should not want nor allow our customer to tell us exactly how to structure a project.  Customers and end users generally do not have the necessary insight into all the dependencies or have the right mix of experience to take on such an effort. That's why they called on us.

Before we get frustrated our users and customers do not have a definitive plan for the project we are assigned, we should instead view these situations as opportunities rather than nuisance. Sometimes customers can be so exacting in their thought process, creativity for the project and maximum business value is stifled. While we need our customers to provide clear goals and direction of how to measure project success, we do not need, nor should we expect our customers and users to tell us exactly how to implement a project. Recent observations have made me really take notice that in our highly rushed environments, we can quickly lose track of our roles and responsibilities. The roles and steps we must undergo will be based on the client’s budget, what they have engaged us to manage and what they will handle internally.

Below are some of the typical roles and responsibilities we are accustomed to exercising:

Customer/End User:

·         Establish Project Budget

·         Communicate General Direction and High Level Goals

·         Definition of Project Success

·         Provide Ongoing Feedback Throughout Project

·         Project Review & Acceptance

·         Project Measurement

Project Manager/Team:

·         Document & Communicate Understanding of Need

·         Research & Brainstorm Possible Solutions with Project Team

·         Create Project Plan Documentation

·         Detail Project Specifications

·         Update Project Plan Documentation as Details Emerge

·         Manage Project, Deliverables & Milestones

·         Communicate to Customer Throughout Project (In accordance with Project/Communication Plan)

·         Deliver Project & Train

·         Work with Customer on Measuring Success


Most of us are familiar and practicing this formal list, but
there are also some very important professional and analyst attributes we should also possess to avoid getting classified as an order taker:

1.       Be creative; think of alternatives – When faced with a business struggle, think of your prior experiences and come up with practical ideas for resolving the situation, in various capacities.

2.       Support your decisions with rationale - even if your customer doesn't ask for it – When proposing new ideas or solutions, be sure and include why you believe something may or may not work. It is important for our customers to see our thoroughness, even if they may not choose one of the alternatives. Presenting them with reasoning for something that will not work helps build credibility. But be sure and support your alternatives and abandoned paths with the research and experience you have on each idea.

3.       Be comprehensive in your approach – Don’t take shortcuts on what you have been asked to do and also what you believe you need to do for the client. Hard work and detail pays off and is the right thing to do.

4.       Research when you don't know the answer – Unfortunately we don’t always know everything a customer asks or that is needed to solve a problem. This is part of growing and should be a regular occurrence in our everyday lives. If someone asks us something we don’t know, we should never leave it as this and should instead 1) research the item ourselves or 2) locate the best resource to address the question. In either case we should let the customer know what is being done, so they are not left guessing.

5.       Be honest, yet polite and professional - We all appreciate honesty. Honesty is especially valued in business where time is money and we are all trying to do more for our businesses with less funding. When presenting the facts and being forthcoming, we should still deliver the message positively and professionally.

6.       Be confident – All interactions should display confidence. Even in cases where we don’t readily have an answer, our job is to make our customer and end users feel at ease.

7.       Offer ideas outside of what you are asked – Customers appreciate us going above and beyond and looking out for their organizations. While we don’t want to get too far off track from the original request, being aware of the customer organization overall may help us add additional value to the customer. Offering alternatives ways of operation and other improvements will help strengthen your relationship while allowing others to benefit from our trials and tribulations.


As project management practitioners and leaders of professional teams, we have an obligation to change this dynamic and ensure we are providing the expected value in both our professional and personal lives.



Related Links
Customers seeking help from an outside vendor can use our detailed New System Development RFP Outline to explain what they need done, and leave the how to their vendor experts. When you're in conducting research, consult our Requirements interview checklist to be sure you're making the most of your time with key customer representatives. Our mini case study explains How an ASIC Company Selects the Right Projects, manages the customer, and always finishes on time.


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