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No Means No: When to Put Your Foot Down with the Client

Sometimes your client makes you want to pull out your hair. He may not be outright hostile, but he can definitely be a frustrating person to work for. But you grin and bear it, because that′s what professionals do.



Professionals have standards of behavior and procedures, and you shouldn′t compromise those unless you′ve got a very good reason. Here are some examples for you to think about:

Demands Affect Work Process

The requests start out reasonably enough: a quick status update here, a short meeting there. But when the client starts wasting your time in endless meetings and perennial status updates, something has to give–and that something shouldn′t be the project.

The client needs to know that their requests are affecting your team′s productivity. But then again, they have a right to stay informed. So set up a compromise solution: fewer but more focused meetings will allow you to focus on keeping the project on schedule. And instead of handing over multiple reports in a day, either give the client limited access to your project management software or set up automated reports for a hands-off solution.

Drastic Project Changes

Only you can stop scope creep. But I don′t mean you flat out refuse to accept changes–that′s going to burn bridges and cost you your job. You have to be more subtle.

The next time the client walks in with a list of changes they′d like to “squeeze in”, listen. Smile. Take notes. Ask questions. And then tell them how long it will take to do, and how much. Be as helpful as you can by providing options and reasoning out their needs, but don′t bend over backwards to make them happy.

Long Approval Cycles

The client quirk I hate the most is the “hurry up and wait” syndrome. There you are, burning midnight oil and sacrificing personal time to get to the next milestone, only to have the client sit on the review for a month–time that could′ve been used working regular hours.

To be fair, many of the larger clients have their own internal procedures, few of which are made with the project management team in mind. Things have to be kicked upstairs for approval, and then further up after that. It takes a while. But you can′t afford to be this understanding when you′ve got a hard deadline. Communicate your concern to the client, and that further review cycles delays will mean you have to push back the project end date. If you feel like the client needs a more forceful message, consider charging them a “project holding fee” for idle time.

Abusive Behavior

We all encounter nightmare clients–those who scream, bluster, or threaten when they don′t get what they want, in the manner they want it. Some even project their mistakes on to you and expect you to take the fall with a smile on your face. Don′t. There′s being professional, and there′s being a doormat. You′re not a doormat.

If you feel like you′re on the abusive end of a client-vendor relationship, consult your boss. Maybe he or someone within your company can be an intermediary and let the client know they′re behaving in an unacceptable manner. Otherwise, you may have to take steps to handle it yourself. Your objective is to stop the negative behavior while preserving your working relationship.


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