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5 Principles for Effective Client and Project Management

Project managers generally have the toughest job in the entire process. They have to manage customers, manage their leadership team, ensure customer payment on invoices and above all ensure successful delivery and meet milestones. All successful project managers have to be great leaders and skilled people managers. Having the knowledge of project management tools, being a certified Project Manager are great skills to have as long as they are combined with day to day management skills.

I have found the following to be key factors in successfully managing customers, teams and the leadership team.

Empathize with the customer: Customers are always demanding; they have brought in a project manager because they think they need either an outside voice or a professional voice to manage the project teams and deliverables. Successful project managers never complain about the unrealistic expectations from customers. They always empathize with the customer to understand the pressures, the environment and break down/ analyze the situation. Empathizing with the customer also helps the project manager to establish a personal relationship and gives a voice of credibility to your skill set. It makes a huge difference when you say –  “I understand the need and the pressure you are dealing with, let us sit together and try to break this down to see what is possible and what is not.” The worst way to kick off a relationship is to start by saying – “what you are expecting is unreasonable, I have been doing this for years and I can tell you now that we cannot accomplish what you want to achieve.”

5 Principles for Effective Client and Project Management

Engage your team: Irrespective of the duration of the project, it is extremely important to engage the team from day 1 and keep them engaged throughout the project duration. Dale Carnegie says – “engaged employees are 43% more productive.” In order to engage the team and each individual, you have to make sure you communicate the criticality of the project, how their contribution can make a difference to the company and the customer and most importantly, what it means to the individual success.

Show interest in understanding the customer – You might have executed on healthcare or insurance projects for 10 years; you might know the inside out of the product that is being implemented; you might be assembling a team that has completed the project several times so far – all of these are great accomplishments and might be important to land your project. However, once the project is won and you start engaging on the project, the project manager and the team have to make sure they connect with the customer, everyone has to feel part of ONE team. There cannot be a customer team and a product/project team. The only way this can happen is if the Project manager and lead consultants show genuine interest in the customer’s business process and take time to understand the unique challenges being faced by the customer. Remember, every customer thinks they are unique and have their own set of challenges and to a great extent this is true. The best way again to connect and establish a relationship with a customer is to start by saying –  “we have experience in this field and have implemented/ built the product over the years. However, every customer we go to has unique set of challenges. Once we understand more about these challenges, as a team we can come up with a plan of solving those and draw upon our experience.”

Get the customer to say “Yes” first: Irrespective of your best efforts, you are sometimes bound to face tough customers. Some customers might refuse to budge on the project scope, some might refuse to budge on the price, some might refuse to budge on the timeline and last but not the least, you will always have the customer who does not want to pay the full or partial invoice. If you are in a situation where the customer is not willing to pay an invoice that means too much water has flown under the bridge. However, the best way to tackle these situations is a) avoid arguments b) get the customer to say yes to the value they have received and then start negotiating. For ex: “You would agree that we have added value in upgrading the product and it was a successful upgrade correct?  I guess the sticky point is around the exact time it took to upgrade?” In such scenarios, when you have established the value upfront, it becomes easier to manage the negotiation.

Take ownership of errors – do not duck: If you realize that you or your team member has done a mistake or has messed up certain part of the project, the first person to acknowledge the mistake with the customer should be the project manager. Being upfront in such situations does several things to the project – a) Establishes your trust worthiness, b) Customer will start thinking that they can rely on you more as you are being upfront, and c) Makes it easy to ask for more time from the customer in case the deliverables are delayed. Yes, it might mean you have to give away 3 or 4 days of free work but this short term loss will build long term credibility and a strong relationship with the client.

Copyright © 2010 Sarat Varanasi

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