Are you a Quality Client?

Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the ODA – a man who is often called upon to oversee and deliver large and complicated projects – said that he has come to realise that the success or failure of a project often depends more on the quality of the client than the quality of the contractors and consultants.

‘The client is vital to the success of any project’, he tells the Chartered Institute of Building in their members’ magazine.

He said that the client has the opportunity to set the agenda and to create the environment for the project to succeed. Too often it is the contractor who is blamed, or the architect, or the engineer, but when tracing the causes of the problem it is often the client that is the source of the failure.

I agree, but it takes a strong-minded Project Manager to tell the client that they can’t get what they want, because the budget and or the timescale is unrealistic; or that they can’t get a ‘fixed’ budget if they keep changing their mind. Indeed I also recall Sir John saying a year ago, at the Sunday Telegraph Festival of Business, that it is the job of a good Project Manager to tell the client ‘You cannot make any changes to the project after this date, because otherwise the budget will get out of control, and the deadline date will not be met’.

Clients that only want the cheapest product, delivered as quickly as possible shouldn’t be surprised when they get a cheap product which doesn’t do what they wanted.

Just as bad is a client that doesn’t know what they want – a situation which often arises in the Public Sector because they have been told to do something by someone else, or a fund of money has been made available which they have been told to spend.

I agree that to succeed you need to have an informed and expert client, but what do you do when you are a client who is not an expert, when you have never delivered what you are being asked or told to deliver?

I think this often arises in Regeneration and Sustainable Development because done properly they cross professional boundaries, and the leadership required has no natural home within Public Sector organisations

You have to get a Project Leader to act as your expert, to be ‘The Client’s Representative’, but this requires someone who has the imagination and judgement to understand the Client’s business, skills and expertise, to help and guide the client, to understand the risks the client can take and is comfortable in taking, and to help them built up and train their own internal team. They also need to tell the client what is reasonable for them to expect and what is unreasonable; and know what is reasonable for the contractor, engineers and consultants¬† to deliver: to know what is possible.

This requires imagination and judgement; to think holistically; to work collaboratively; belief in excellence but to understand about loose fit and flexibility, and understanding that there is not one answer to a problem like regeneration. It requires someone who understands the client’s ‘business’.

This combination of skills is not often found within the organisation and structure of a Local Authority, so this is what I bring in my role as a Regeneration and Sustainable Growth Consultant – more like a Regeneration Director.

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