Managing Clients for Their Own Good
While clients are an essential part of any project (it’s their money, after all) many project teams view their involvement with wariness, or even dread. This fear isn’t unfounded. The industry is rife with horror stories of client meddling or mismanagement that has led to failed projects and ramshackle deliverables.
No project manager worth his salt would want to deliver a product that is anything less than stellar. But sometimes the client can be their own worst enemy. How can a project manager then preserve a project’s integrity while balancing the clients wants with what they actually need?
There are a few avenues that you can take:
Inform the Client
Nothing makes a client more nervous than not knowing what’s going on. This is a bad thing, because a nervous client can become emotional and make irrational decisions. Establish a regular update schedule where the client can review current progress, milestones gained, and pending issues. Using a project management software, where a client can access project status at any time might be a good idea. Also send the client a quick email every now and then, even if it’s just to say that you finished a certain task.
Communication is especially important in times of crisis. When something goes wrong, the project manager should be the one to call the client, not the way around. By doing this, the PM is performing a vital task of keeping the client occupied and letting his team focus on fixing whatever the problem is.
Educate the Client
Most of a client’s bad decisions in a project are a result of ignorance and erroneous assumptions. As the main point of contact with the project team, the project manager should tackle these misconceptions as soon as they come up. This will educate the client on what you’re doing and give them a further appreciation of the value that you bring to their organization.
When educating the client, it’s important to remain polite and professional, and not condescending or snarky. Clients are more likely to respond positively to corrections if they are phrased in a reasonable manner.
Make the Client Part of the Solution
If you find that the client is persistently involving himself in the project, then maybe you can redirect his energy to more useful ends. Try sending the client questions that you need answered, or asking their opinion on topics that you could go either way. This will make sure that their time and energy is used in adding value to the project as a second opinion.
Remember that you should always check your client’s personality before doing anything so drastic — some clients will not respond well to being ordered around, even if its phrased in a nice way.