Project Managers: The Glue or Scissors to Your Client Relationships
Project managers (PMs) can turn that elegantly designed website into a reality, or they can cause some serious headaches that put the entire project at risk. We see PMs as vital team players who have helped launch beautiful Fortune 100 platforms and mobile apps, in addition to the first multi-vendor museum eCommerce site. You could say we take the whole PM thing seriously, so we’re here to share our wisdom in the hopes that it can help you, too.
For this three-part blog series, we surveyed PMs, recruiters, and clients to learn what makes and breaks a PM. Here are our findings, beginning with the 4 big mistakes, followed by the 4 virtues, and finally, advice for first-time project managers:
The 4 Big Mistakes
Letting the plan dictate you.
Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” While PMing is (hopefully) less painful than boxing, plans often get thrown out the window just as quickly. Pull away from the transactional, let-me-check-this-off-my-list mentality and really tune in. When listening to your clients, anticipate their needs, be proactive (not reactive), allocate the right resources, and even suggest a better alternative.
Not owning up to your mistakes.
The client-PM relationship is largely based on trust. Local Wisdom’s own project manager, Ganesh Natarajan, emphasized the importance of “taking ownership and responsibility on your end. If there’s a problem, don’t bury it. Be honest and deliver any bad news in the beginning, if possible.” Trying to avoid a problem by burying it will only become a thorn in your side as you steer the team in the right direction. It may not be fun, and it’ll likely be uncomfortable, but clients will appreciate your integrity in the long-run—and your production team will stay protected by your transparency.
Throwing together a team last-minute or (one that doesn’t cooperate).
Let’s face it: time and resources are always limited. Our PMs suggest considering phase releases to avoid not being able to deliver at all. Be mindful of your team when time is in a crunch. Be honest and communicate with your client when resources are limited—and show your strategic savvy by always having an alternate plan in your back pocket.
Lacking subject matter expertise.
Tracy Pogue, Director of Project Management at R2 Integrated, reminded us that “lacking subject matter expertise can cause headaches and slowdown.” If you find yourself constantly having to gather your team to answer a client’s questions, it might be your cue that you need to get a better grasp on the information. If you become the expert, the client will only need to go through you, instead of through multiple people, to get the answer they need. This keeps everyone on track and on time.
The 4 Virtues
Leadership (work-related or not)
There will be times when you have to speak up, point out a problem, navigate stumbling blocks, and manage diverse team personalities. The more practice you get in these areas the better. A project manager’s initiative, or lack thereof, can make or break a project.
Tip: Take the lead on a project at work or at an outside organization. There’s no better way to get the experience than to jump into it.
It can be a challenge to run through the marathon of emails, calls, and meetings before your coffee gets cold. A PM needs to be the hub of information for the client and production team. Attention to detail and organization are key. The more you learn about your client, your production team, and the subject matter, the less stressful multitasking becomes.
Tip: Buy yourself a trendy planner (I like mine to sparkle – if you don’t, that’s on you). Use it to track timelines and jot down notes. You’ll avoid the awful feeling of scrambling at the last minute.
Miscommunication leads to confusion and frustration. Add in contrasting personalities, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Prevent miscommunication by being upfront from the beginning of every project and throughout its duration. Additionally, remember that being a good listener goes hand-in-hand with being a good communicator.
Tip: Practice your communication skills in company meetings. Speak up if you don’t understand something. Ask questions. Suggest an agenda if there isn’t one. Make sure there’s a next step at the end of each meeting.
In his years as a PM, Brad Laudal of Neudesic reminded us that it’s a dynamic profession and that a PM “should embrace change and welcome suggestions even if it’s going to be inconvenient for the PM.” Remember, PMing is about the client experience and looking out for their best interests, which can sometimes mean rerouting the course.
Tip: Change can be uncomfortable, but it is unavoidable. To make the best of it as a PM, start thinking about change as a catalyst for positive results rather than thinking of it as an obstacle. You’ll learn to adapt, which is a necessarily skill for such a dynamic role.
Advice for First-Timers
Make yourself approachable and visible.
As a PM, you may not see your clients often due to distance and the inevitability of managing multiple projects. Distance and lack of face-time can hinder communication and turn into frustration. When possible, visit your clients, have them visit the office, or pick up the phone and check in on them. More accessibility and dialogue with your team builds a stronger foundation for trust and communication.
Be a sponge.
Absorb as much knowledge as possible from the people you’ll work with closely. Ask developers to showcase their work and walk you through how they built their platforms. Sit with designers to learn about the tools they use. Learn about the client and their audience. The more you know, appreciate and respect everyone’s role, the better you’ll be able to communicate between your team and your client.
Remember that project management is people management.
It’s probably a bad idea to assume everyone is going to have the same goals and understandings of a project. In fact, scope creeps and budget challenges might be thrown your way when least expected. It’s important to keep your ears open and get a good grasp on everyone’s goals and perspective. It’ll likely be up to you to communicate those goals and adjust accordingly to find a resolution that marries different mindsets.
Don’t get discouraged
Some days you’ll feel like you’re on mountain top, and others you’ll feel down in the pits. Every PM experiences these waves so it’s best to keep a positive and optimistic attitude through it all.
We hope these were helpful tips that can be applicable for all.