The Customer Isn’t the Expert

It’s always nice hear to the word’s “you are the expert – tell us what to do”.  But this is not always the case.  There are many customers out there who know the solution before you walk in the door. You arrive, they tell you what to build and how and expect you to sign-off and begin the project.

Welcome back to my summer blog series based on Brad Egeland’s ( article that appeared in early July entitled ‘11 Reasons Why My Project Manager Is Better Than Yours’.   

Last week’s post was titled “Do Not Bite Off More Than You Can Chew”.

Today, Brad takes us to the controversial side.

The Customer Isn’t The Expert

Brad writes “Remember, the customer hired us to run the project. It is ok, and in fact, it is necessary to overthink the customer’s issues, project needs, and desired solution. They are not the experts, we are! It is our job to do the planning and digging into the customer’s current business processes and the requirements for the project and determine what the “real need” and what the “real project” needs to be. Don’t just run with what the customer says we should be doing because, in the end, they may not be satisfied with the results.”

My wife Karen, and I are in the middle of building/renovating our new home north of Toronto.   We started the project about a year ago when we began interviewing potential architects.  It was an easy process: we told them what we wanted and showed them the sketch of how we saw the solution.  They just needed to price it out for us.  Our chosen architect came back with a plan that was far removed from what we ‘asked’ him to do.  We asked him “You didn’t listen to a word we said, did you?”  One word came back… “Nope”.

And thanks goodness.  The customer is not always right.  We weren’t for sure.  His idea was amazing and as we get to within a few months of completion, we couldn’t be happier.

Technology projects are tough on everyone with changing tools, uncertain requirements and ever revolving stakeholders.  Non-tech projects are no different.  Lots of changes and lots of different stakeholders.

The project manager (and business analyst) needs to take control, exert some authority over the design phase and make sure that no stone is unturned on the path to the desired solution.

How?  You need to establish your credentials right up front.  Make sure the client knows where you have been and how you have earned your reputation.  Typically, they will not hand over the reigns to you immediately.  If you are an unknown commodity you will need to work on gaining his/her trust.

Once you have that trust, they will understand and appreciate your skills and knowledge.

Start strong.  Establish a good working relationship with your client and your project will be well on its way to success.

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4 thoughts on “The Customer Isn’t the Expert”

  1. In the world of technology there is no one person that knows all the potential solutions. The role of the BA is to form up a problem set and facilitate a brain storming session to come up with solutions using people who are qualified about such things.

    In you house renovation, the questions up from should have been what don’t you like about your current house and then the architect could have come back with some options to address your problems. I disagree that the architect coming back with just one solution was the right approach – of course if depends on the size of the project.

  2. Leticia Alpahando

    Hello….although i agree that the customer Is not the expert ( with exception of them being a SME to a particular project); I think we should be mindful of the PM principles of having the customer sign of on scope and deliverables to ensure that the project/s has a clear plan and deliverables for the customer to sign off and accept product.
    On your renovation project after plan was presented you skip to being satisfied/ happy within a few months of completion…. you did not mention you signed off after architect provided his plan…. Is this just a gap in your article?
    Thank you very much for a good blog

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