Project Planning and Estimation can be a contentious issue. Yesterday, I presented a way of addressing the Developers' concerns while simultaneously demonstrating your management prowess. Today I will address the Customer side of the equation.
Rule #1: A Customer Relationship is Work
As Patrick has noted over and over again, “good customer service (just like good communication) is not natural for everybody.” This means you have to work at it. You can hope that customers will come to you, hand you everything you need, and go away until the project is complete and the bill is due, but you'll never see them again. Constant and repeated contact is the only way to go. Whether you're looking for more information, giving a status update, or just saying “hello”. More contact is better than no contact.
Rule #2: The Customer Needs Information
Yes, since the customer hired your services, they knew they needed your services, but you must keep them in the loop. They may not care which tools or frameworks you use, but let them know. Give them status reports on a regular basis. Update estimates when you have to. We at CaseySoftware even go a step further. We grant read-only access to individual projects within our internal installation of dotProject in order to allow them to even see the comment logs and the Task Tracking. They also have access to submit, comment upon, and close issues within Mantis.
There are a handful of other key rules that we focus on, but due to time constraints, they'll be addressed in Monday's missive.