There are three basic mottos and principles I stick by when working on Projects and with my clients.
- You’re only as successful as your last customer thinks you are.
- Good detailed requirements are the lifeblood of the project.
- Excellent and efficient communication is Job Number One for the project manager.
For this article it’s this last one that I want to focus on.
Projects are hard enough to manage without issues of poor communication getting in the way. I’ve always maintained that project communication is Job Number One for the project manager. A project manager who fails to communicate effectively, efficiently, and confidently on a regular basis with all stakeholders throughout the length of a project engagement is not likely to be successful – nor will the projects that he is charged with managing. The project manager who fails to communicate loses the confidence and engagement of both his team and his project customer – and we all know that customer satisfaction is one major key to overall project success.
Because project communication is so critical to the success of a project, I’ve dedicated a series of thoughts on common project concepts and tools in relation to project communication to help us all focus on best practices as we try to drive home success.
Carrying out the Customer Interface
This is more of a general thought in the entire communication process than any one specific communication strategy. If you subscribe to the same notion that I do – that the process of effective communication is the single most important thing that a project manager does – then you understand that how we interact with the customer is critical to the overall success of the engagement.
Just as important as the project manager’s communications with the customer are the individual project team members’ communications with that same customer. The part that becomes hard is that as the project manager you’re accountable for ALL project communication, but you can’t always police that which you are not a part of. Nor should you, but it does all come back to you.
So the questions then become:
- How to find the best way to interface with the customer
- How to prepare the project team to interact with the customer
- What to do when the communication goes wrong?
Project to customer interface
The primary function here is to practice frequent and effective communication with the customer. Most of this done through the creation of informative and accurate communication material: status reports, project schedules, issues and risks tracking sheets, status calls, and status call notes among other things.
But even the informal communication with the customer is important and must be done with care. Always be above board with the customer, but also always be above reproach. You don’t ever want to spread gossip, give inside information that is not appropriate, or speak poorly of your team, your company, the project, or customer personnel. Always maintain high level of professionalism. It’s ok to be familiar with the customer, but don’t let your guard down … they’re still a customer.
Prepare the team
At the beginning of the engagement set the ground rules for the team in their communications with the customer. Coach them on professionalism, the methods that are acceptable, and what communication approaches to use in different situations.
One more thing – in this age of social media – be sure to make it clear that no discussions with or about the customer should happen on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media space. Once it’s out there, it’s there forever.
Fixing the mess
This is exactly where you hoped not to be, but it happens. And you may have a mess to clean up or fix. Go back to the effective communication and the practice of full disclosure with the customer. Making them part of the solution rather than keeping them uniformed is almost always the best way to go.
And for communications that get out of hand … that’s another problem. First, go to the source. If it’s your team member, then discuss the communication issue with them and understand their side of the story. Then take it to the customer together. Working with the customer and the team to proactively correct a communication problem or misunderstanding will show that you’re involved and the problem is being addressed. This will go a long way in maintaining customer satisfaction and confidence.
Communication happens throughout the engagement and without effective communication a lot
can go wrong on your projects. Poorly communicating one important requirement can cost tens
of thousands of dollars – more if your project is huge. It’s critical that the project manager
preps the team on effective communication and keeps the customer as well-informed as possible in order to help ensure a successful project.
Photo by Steffi Pereira on Unsplash