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Viewpoint Let's stop the blame culture

AGENDA - Stop cursing the clients and try to understand them, writes Andrew Barraclough

IT IS about time that blaming the client if things go wrong on PFI projects was banned.Far too often we hear project teams moaning that they were not given a clear brief of what was required on a project or that the client changed its mind half way through.

It is not the client's fault - it is up to the project team involved to fully understand the clients' business and carefully help to guide them through the PFI process from start to finish.This means putting systems in place so you can adapt easily to change.

We must recognise that clients'businesses or operations, like a school or hospital, are constantly evolving and that their needs are continually changing.

Perhaps we should not refer to 'clients' at all.They are 'customers' and like the old adage 'the customer is always right', it should be our role to ensure that they can make informed choices and understand what is the best course of action to take.

The customer that is embarking on its first PFI project will not always be 'right'because it does not have the detailed experience or knowledge to make valid judgements.

It is up to the project's advisers to gain to ensure that customers feel the best possible route will be followed.

So how do you gain customers'trust? By understanding the nature of their business whether it is running a large corporate operation or managing a hospital.You must understand what is driving a customer's business and should be able to suggest ideas for new buildings that will improve efficiency and enhance performance.

It is the role of the whole team involved to understand this - not just the architect or design team leader.

Sometimes customers find it hard to articulate exactly what they. It takes time and patience.An in-depth understanding of what is needed can only be achieved by getting under the skin of an organisation.This is realised by face-to-face contact, visiting the existing place of work, meeting the teams who will work in the new facilities, by organising discussion groups, listening to people and by continual dialogue.

If you examine an organisations properly the customer gets to know you.You understand what's driving them, know what they are looking for, and what their needs are.We need to put the procurement method to one side until we have a thorough understanding of their operations.

This all needs to take place well before the project starts.Not enough time is spent pre-planning.You must be sure of the customers'priorities and goals, which will not necessarily be the same as your own.

We must carefully analyse what is achievable and educate the customer on what is attainable.We must establish a detailed brief that everyone understands, a set of objectives and framework and superb lines of communication.

Keeping the same members of the project management team involved is vital. It provides reassurance for the customer and if things do go wrong it is easier to be upfront and honest with people you know.

It is all about fostering better relationships and developing a true partnership.This is a long and complex process and it is far too easy for a blame culture to emerge.You must get it right from the start.