Some people that you may want to seek out include:
- The customer’s program managers. As a project manager, you will probably have most of your customer interactions with managers at similar levels. These people may be important sources of information and may initiate procurement requests, but they may not be the ultimate decision maker or approval authority.
- Decision-makers. It is extremely important to figure out who the decision-makers are at the customer. Decision-makers have the authority to approve procurements. This may vary according to the value of the procurement. The decision-maker must agree to your proposed solution or it will not be approved for implementation.
- People involved in contracts, purchasing, and budgeting. The contracts and purchasing staff will know the process and the forms that must be completed to approve the procurement. They may or may not see eye-to-eye with their own program staff. The budgeting staff know where the money is buried. They may not want to talk to you. Be helpful. If your customer is considering a procurement, then you may be able to help them process it. The budgeting people may not talk numbers with you, but they might talk process and deadlines. And they might tell you whether budget will be an issue for what your customer wants to do. Look for opportunities to help one part of the customer work with another part.
- Administrative assistants. If an administrative assistant is available who can answer your questions (for example, is that project done internally or by a contractor, what group is so-and-so in charge of, etc.), then ask the assistant. Establishing a relationship with administrative assistants can’t hurt, and often can yield a lot of information. Besides, you can always ask the same question of the manager later, if only for validation and to establish communication at that level, too. If you don’t know who to talk to at a customer, you can start with the administrative assistants. They might know and it may keep you from looking dumb in front of the customer’s management. Once you have your org chart, or list of projects, you can ask the assistants who handles this, who handles that, who do you talk to about budgets, what is the process for procurements, etc. They can give you the names of people and you can follow up with them later.
Keep in mind that everyone has different opinions regarding what direction an organization should go and how it should get there. One person may tell you where things are heading, only to be contradicted by another. This is one reason why it is important to know who the decision-makers are— their opinions are the ones that really count.