Did you ever have one of those project customers come to you with an initiative that really has no boundaries or definition yet? Sort of a taste of “we’ll get there when we get there.” Basically, you’re assigned to a project that really isn’t a project yet and working for a customer who doesn’t know what they need…at least not yet. Maybe you thought you had a project, maybe you have a statement of work (SOW) in hand and even kicked off the project with that information, but when you started really work with the customer you find out that everything was not as it seemed.So what do you do? You want the customer to be happy…but at any and every expense? No. What can cause you to be stuck in this situation? In my project management experience on my own projects and from discussing PM issues with colleagues, it usually comes down to one of three major situations that have come about to put you and your team in this position: Poorly defined requirements, vague acceptance criteria, or weak project leadership. Let’s look at each of these and discuss ways to either avoid or combat these problems as they arise.Poorly defined requirements or very incomplete requirements. If you’ve taken over a troubled project in mid-stream then you really can’t take the blame for this one. It’s just important that you recognize the problem for what it is early enough before the project budget gets into too much trouble. If it’s been your project since inception, then you have no excuse – you allowed the engagement to move forward from the planning phase without getting good requirements.Either way, you’ve now reached a critical point in the project where it’s causing problems. You can’t get the customer to move forward because they don’t seem to know what they want and you can’t tell them what they want because the requirements aren’t defined well enough.You and your team must revisit the planning phase with the customer and analyze the existing requirements. Are there gaps in requirements? Is there critical detail missing that would help you and your team – and the customer – make some of these key decisions that seem to be holding up the project progress?The best thing to do is to rework the schedule using your online project management software tool and add one to two weeks of additional planning time to fine-tune the project requirements.Undefined or vague acceptance criteria. Another problem that can cause this type of stalemate with the customer on a project can be vague deliverable acceptance criteria or vague milestone signoff criteria. If you don’t have the criteria set in place that lets everyone know when something has been successfully delivered, then it can sometimes be very difficult to get customer agreement and signoff when that milestone arrives in your web-based project management software schedule.If poor criteria exist – or, worse, if no criteria exists – sit down formally with the customer and come to an agreement on what will constitute an appropriately met milestone or deliverable. It may not be easy, and it may require some negotiation, but accomplishing this now will help you and your team avoid these problems for the rest of the engagement.Weak leadership. The final cause of the wishy-washy customer can be simply poor or weak leadership at the top of the project – and that’s you. Maybe you’re not being stern enough with the customer when it comes to making key decisions on the project. Maybe you’re being too laid back as your team is finishing up critical deliverables and you’re letting details slip through the cracks. Whatever the problem, it’s critical that you get a backbone now and start enforcing the deadlines that were set forth in your project management software schedule, or your project is going to slide further and further off schedule. It’s never too late to take control of the project – unless your senior leadership has already made the move to replace you due to poor project leadership.Summary / call for inputThese types of situation never end well unless you take charge, get detailed requirements in hand, rein in the project customer, figure out exactly how to get the real work on the project accepted and signed off and be the leader you need to be.Have you ever faced this type of customer or this type of project. I have on a couple of occasions and it is no fun…I lost lots of sleep over these issues. What did you do to “fix” this situation and turn it around? Please share and discuss.