It’s Not Your Project, It’s the Client’s Project

I used to work with a very wise man who says this all the time. I think it was his way of making it OK to do something that you didn’t think was the right way, or the best way, or the most elegant way because the client asked for it. It was also his way to help new people at our agency understand that just because they have responsibility for a certain area of a project doesn’t mean they’re 100% in charge.  After all, it isn’t YOUR project it is the CLIENT’s project. The client is paying you to do certain work. It needs to meet their goals and needs and preferences in the end, not yours. So ultimately it is not your decision, it’s theirs.

There may be times when what the client is asking you to do is not actually a matter of opinion. What she’s asking for is actually detrimental to the project. If this is the case, it is sort of your job as the project team to discuss it. A good rule of thumb is to bring it up, explain the reason why you think it could be detrimental to the project, and make a suggestion for how you might accomplish the same goal without risking the end result. This strategy works best when the core team member responsible for that area of the project (e.g., programmers for coding issues, graphics people for art issues) is the one making the argument – assuming of course that those team members have great communication skills and are putting the client’s best interest first (rather than trying to get out of doing more work themselves).

If the client disagrees and repeats that she wants it her way, then you do it.  Because its her project, not yours.

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Being Late and the Damage it Does

Lateness – my own and other people’s – is a pet peeve.  I would rather be an hour early for a meeting and have to sit and wait then take the chance that I’ll get lost and be late. On the rare occasion that something happens to make me late it drives me crazy. As soon as I know there’s a chance I might be late I’m contingency planning – contacting people to start the meeting without me or getting a dial in set up so I can join from the car for the first 5 minutes.

But being late seems to be the norm for some people. Its like they don’t notice, don’t care, or assume its normal to be late.  Even some project managers seem to suffer from the chronic lateness disease and frankly, I don’t understand how they still have jobs.  It’s disrespectful.  And its mighty hard to lead a successful project if you’re disrespectful to your client and your team.

Check out this post by Greg Savage, founder of multiple recruitment companies in Australia and keynote speaker worldwide. Sums it up completely in a way I could never type myself.

You go Greg Savage.

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“She Thinks She’s My Only Client”

Of course she does! Even if all logic says otherwise, no client wants to think they’re any less than your first priority.  Of course if you’re managing some giant project, it may be the sole focus of your work. But for most of us we’re juggling multiple projects as well as internal work along with the really important stuff – home and family – all at the same time.  The trick is to make sure your client can reach you, to plan well so that you can meet her deadlines along with everyone else’s, and if you can avoid saying things like: “I’m sorry we can’t do what you’re asking/we were late for your meeting/we missed your deadline because we’re too busy with our other projects,” that helps too.

What’s your best advice for juggling multiple projects at the same time?

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PM Traps: Over-Optimism and Lack of Self Awareness

Have you ever worked with someone who consistently says she’s going to do something and then doesn’t?  And then you wonder..

Is she just saying she’s going to do it so I’ll go away? . . . Or so the client will feel satisfied for the moment? . . . Or is she just a flake and forgets what she promised?

This is a fatal flaw for project managers – the client might be OK with an excuse the first time a deadline is missed, but after that they loose faith.  And once you have a reputation for over-promising and under-delivering, your chance of getting the next project goes way down.

If you or someone you know has a problem keeping their promises, here are a few tips that may help.

  • Make a sign.
    Hang it somewhere prominent so you’ll see it – use giant type and put the most important stuff in all caps

(not the other way around)

  • Take a moment to think.
    When your client, your boss, or a member of your team is asking you to say when you’ll have something done, don’t blurt out an answer immediately. Really think through when you’ll have time to do it and then add some extra time on as a buffer. Or better yet, say “let me regroup on a few things and let you know.” Then make sure to follow up.
  • Set a standing meeting for getting back to people.
    Put a standing daily appointment in your calendar so that you have dedicated time reserved for getting back to people.  Keep a list so that you remember who you need to respond to and with what information.
  • Keep your priorities straight.
    If you are a full time project manager, your top priority should be to delight your client. Your second priority should be to help your team function effectively. If you have to put something off until later, put off anything that doesn’t support these priorities.
  • Track your progress.
    Write down every promise you make – along with the details (who you said you would get back to, by when, and with what) – then track how many times you deliver what you said you would and how many you didn’t. Strive for 100% success.

A good project manager should never surprise the client by missing a deadline. This is not to say that things don’t go off track sometimes, but if you’re watching your project (except for natural disasters and other unpredictable events), you’ll know ahead of time when something is going wrong and can proactively re-set your client’s expectations. Once you’ve built that trust with the client, your project can easily survive the hiccups that will inevitably occur.

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Consistently 5 Minutes Late: OK or Not?

Client annoyed about timeWe’ve all been on those conference calls – where you’re listening to hold music and wondering if you got the time wrong while waiting for the leader to show up.

If you’re the project manager in charge of starting the call, is this OK? I vote not. Especially when the meeting is with a client.

Even if you email 2 minutes ahead and say you’re running late… even if the client himself is usually 5 minutes late, it really isn’t OK for the project manager to be late to start the meeting.

The client’s time is valuable, and its better for the PM and the project not to waste it. Being late is like saying that the client is not important enough for you to show up on time.  Saying that you were tied up doing something else doesn’t help since that just means some other project, client, or task is more important than the meeting.

No matter how busy, or how much internal stuff there is to do, it pays to put the clients first. For those of us who work where projects are the company’s business, it is easy to make a great argument for why work should be prioritized this way. If the issue is time management, those outlook reminders can help. In those rare situations when running late is unavoidable or if there is a history of chronic lateness, it can help to give someone else on the team the leader code so they can start the call. Better that than to let everyone sit there wasting time listening to hold music and wondering if the meeting is still on.

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5 PM Best Practices to Implement on Day 1

Getting a project off on the right foot can be a challenge.  There is so much to figure out you can feel like you’re drowning right from the very beginning.

These 5 best practices can help – implement them early and they’ll become like second nature. Then your brain can be free to focus on the project details. They’ll also make you look like you know what you’re doing in front of your client, and they’ll help your project go more smoothly too.

  1. Assign yourself as the single point of contact with the client. Have the client assign a single point of contact on his side too.
    This doesn’t mean that other people can’t be involved or that other people don’t communicate with the client. It means that as the PM, you are the one person who is ultimately responsible, the one person the client can call to answer a question or deal with a problem. The same should be true on the client side – make sure that you have one person to contact to strategize, arrange meetings, gather feedback on deliverables, and determine next steps. Neither you or the client should be running around trying to get in touch with team members on the other side. That’s what the single point of contact is for.
  2. Send out a weekly status report.
    This may be the simplest thing you can do to make sure everyone is informed about the project.  It can be a 1 page word document or even an email that outlines these 4 key things: what was done last week, what needs to be done next week, risks, and upcoming milestones. Not only will you be keeping all team members and stakeholders informed of the project progress, you’re also creating a paper trail you can use if you ever need it (e.g., change order).
  3. Set up a weekly status call. Have the call even if you think there is nothing to talk about.
    This weekly touchpoint is critical to keep the lines of communication open and to discuss project progress, issues, or problems. If your project is delayed and there are no deliverables to discuss – have the meeting so you can discuss the delay and how to mitigate it. Its not hard, and it doesn’t take much time, but it does wonders for keeping your project moving and for maintaining your relationship with the client.
  4. Document all decisions and next steps.
    After each meeting or important conversation, send out an email to everyone involved with a brief summary and a list of next steps. Include action items with due dates and the names of the people who will complete them.  Not only is this a good reminder which your client and team will appreciate, its also a paper trail (see #2 above).
  5. Make sure deadlines are clear to everyone.
    Share the timeline details with everyone. When it changes, share the changes. Don’t expect everyone on your team to read the 32 page project plan, but share it anyway, then talk to your team members directly about the deadlines specific to them. If you communicate clearly and often, you have a better chance of noticing when something starts to go off the rails.

We know that all projects have the potential to go bad. The quicker you can identify potential problems, the better chance you’ll have to fix them before they become major issues for the project.

I think these 5 best practices can help – they don’t call them best practices for nothing after all.  What do you think?

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Before You Send: Formatting Checklist for Project Managers

Last week Seth Godin posted this on the “wrapper” – about how the box, the frame, the presentation matters, even if its not the point.

Earlier this week I saw a document that was sent to a client with no header, no footer, no logo, no title, and no page numbers – I was baffled.  I asked myself, how could the project manager look at this document and think it was OK to send?  Not only does it look unprofessional, but its also impractical – how can the client easily tell what this document is? If the pages get out of order, how much work will it be to put it back?  If someone finds the document lying around, how will they know who wrote it?

It’s part of the project manager’s job to present the company and the work in a professional way  – and that includes the wrapper.  So make sure the document is correct, that it reads well and is written well and covers all the important information, and also that it looks professional.

First, if your organization has a document template with pre-set headers/footers/logo, etc. Use it!  if it doesn’t, create one or lobby your boss to get one made, then insist that it be consistently used.  Until then, make sure the document has:

  • Title
  • Your logo/company name
  • The client/company name
  • Version number
  • Date
  • Page number
  • Header (sometimes repeats the document name beginning on page 2)
  • Footer (often contains copyright information or contact information)
  • Consistent font and font size
  • Consistent headings
  • Consistent use of bullets
  • Consistent spacing

And last but not least, make sure all track changes have been removed.

To download a checklist of these items, click here: Formatting Checklist.

This final check into the look and feel of your document will go a long way to making your work look professional.

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