Don't Forget the Project Demo - The Importance of EXHIBIT

Posted by Katie Blatherwick on February 17, 2016

This month I am covering the last of The Three E’s: Exhibit. (If you missed the prior month’s blogs, take a minute to go back and read more about the first two of The Three E’s: Empathy and Expectation.) Just like managing client-expectation builds on the empathy for your client, your ability to adequately exhibit progress depends on managing client expectation. The last of The Three E’s is, in my opinion, the often the most difficult for project managers and producers to incorporate habitually into every project.

So what exactly do I mean by "exhibit"? Fundamentally, it is the demonstration to the client of work in progress throughout a project. Most project managers know that doing so is paramount to the Scrum framework. It is not lost on anyone involved in software development that reviewing the work is an essential step in the process. Yet despite the common awareness of the importance of exhibit, many project managers still struggle with it. The question is, why?

Falling Through the Cracks

Unfortunately, this fundamental tenet of project management may slip through the cracks for many different reasons.

For instance, in the consultant/agency – client relationship, project managers are often managing more than one client and project at a time. When overwhelmed with multiple projects on multiple trajectories and in various phases of a timeline, it often becomes too easy to let some of the more repetitive tasks fall to the wayside.

I argue that project managers and producers in the consultant role, should lean more heavily on the process and predictability of exhibiting progress to clients, precisely because they are juggling more than one client at a time. See what happened there? I turned the common gripe we hear from producers on its head and made it the reason they should actually use exhibition more often. Keep in mind – each layer of The Three E’s requires the other two counterparts and therefore solely leveraging exhibition of project progress will not work.

What other arguments are made for failing to demonstrate progress to client? In my experience I have seen this happen for a variety of reasons, including: 

  • Project management time for the project is cut, or drastically reduced, so time for demos is not included within in the scope of work.
  • The development team cannot, for whatever reason, put out predictably demo-ready work.
  • The project manager is simply unable to get the team to run the demos for the client.

I am sure the list of reasons is longer than what I've encountered but the root cause is not really important. The bottom line is that you must stop accepting excuses (served up on a platter called “reasons”) and instead become laser-focused on the importance of exhibiting progress.

Creating Pride in Ownership

Imagine that you have hired a contractor to build a home for you. It seems like a legitimate expectation to visit the construction site between the time you sign the contract and the day you move in, if for no other reason, to make payments to the contractor. Early on, you are not expecting much in terms of seeing progress. You may even consider the foundation and structural elements of the build kind of boring.

This is analogous to software development. The building of the initial project architecture is never glamorous, so we often fail to exhibit this type of progress to our clients.

You might think they do not care, but SHARE THE BORING PROGRESS WITH YOUR CLIENTS. It is important. Take time to explain to them the value in the dull, thick, techie details of the project. It builds trust, and believe it or not, your clients will understand it. Even if you bore them a bit – they will live. More often than not, we even get some very valuable client feedback during these "boring" architectural reviews.

Imagine if you were not permitted to visit the construction site of your new home, or when you did visit there was no one around to walk you through the progress. You would still want to know when you could move in, but you would not have all the cool knowledge about how the studs are 3’ apart instead of 4’ to add stability, and how the home is air tight because of a new XYZ product, and how your roof’s flashing is correctly wicking away as it should. If the contractor fails to explain these finer details in the construction, it means you remain ignorant. That makes you feel a lot less like an owner and more like a member of the general public.

Keep in mind our clients OWN their software product. Owners of anything often want to be experts of the things they acquire. Now apply this logic to project management and you will understand the importance of exhibiting the progress of the project, no matter how difficult and technical you think it is. Always remember your clients are more knowledgeable and curious than you may sometimes give them credit for.

Building (or Losing… ) Client Trust

When we fail to demonstrate progress to our clients, then the trust between client and consultant cannot grow. The relationship may actually be damaged due to the client believing the consultant is purposefully not exhibiting progress as a means to hide some sort of bad news.

The result of failing to demonstrate progress? A mark against your trustworthiness. So how can you avoid appearing untrustworthy? If you are truly empty handed, it is better to share with the client the honest truth than to delay, deny, or derail the demonstration. And even if you do have something you consider “boring” to demonstrate, but believe the client’s tolerance for the “boring” is low, think again. Clarify with them, if they prefer to see such details. You might be pleasantly surprised.  

The Power of the Three E's

Ultimately, you must remember that The Three E’s are a gestalt: Their power as a whole system is far more than simply the sum of its parts. Each layer assists in the subsequent layer’s success. For example, if you cannot empathize with your client, then understanding the importance of managing expectation will be lost. And if you fail to manage expectation, the client will be unclear of that which you must exhibit along the way. I have been using and fine tuning The Three E’s for many years now with consistent success and really have enjoyed sharing with the world a few of the key elements to successful project management.

Katie Blatherwick
Katie Blatherwick has spearheaded dozens of Website and Web application projects for BlueModus from concept to launch and everything in between. She uses her rich experience in business process development and analytics, technology, and SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) management to ensure that her clients' projects launch smoothly. Katie holds a bachelor degree in Management of Information Systems from the University of Colorado.