Project Manager and the Client

I found the first article below when scrolling through the Project Management Interest Group on LinkedIn. Check it out: (

“Becoming the Master of Client ‘Touch’” sparked my interest as I deal with clients on a daily basis. The word “touch” represents contact with a client that let’s them know you are thinking about them as well as things that may be significant to them. The article provides examples of client “touches” such as hand-delivering a proposal, sending industry specific articles to clients, and sending tools or check lists that make their lives easier.

In summary, the article highlights how the project manager has a responsibility to reach out to clients in quick, meaningful way that ultimately make the client feel comfortable with you. I see clients work with those they truly feel comfortable working with time and time again in my line of work. It is important to keep in mind all of the great skills we learn getting our MBA, but it is also very much about relationships we form.

The second article, “Managing Projects, Helping People,” suggests numerous ways that a project manager can walk the fine line of managing a project and a client relationship. Two aspects from the article I have found successful in client relationships are being honest and being an educator.

Being honest includes discussing how something may be a challenge for your team. By being honest, the client may be able to bring a perspective to the particular challenge you had not thought of previously. You can also include the client in the decision-making process to help build harmony on ideas. I have found explaining concepts, financials or outcomes in an honest light (i.e. why we are losing money on a particular portion of their business) and most importantly showing the client alternatives are a key part of the long-term relationship with the client.

Continuous education to the client can be a long-term benefit to the client/manager relationship. Often times the client hires a team, led by the project manager, because they are not knowledgeable about a topic. The article suggests using your expertise and starting from the beginning of the process explaining things at a high-level. It is important to detail and explain what things mean line-by-line.

When the project team presents a deliverable, it is key to take the time to educate the client on deliverable when can make it faster for decision-making. Six short steps can aid in successful presentation of deliverables:

  1. Start with short history of project highlights strategy and goals as well as what has been done to date.
  2. Explain what the deliverable is meant to do and how it will impact any downstream decisions.
  3. Present the deliverable thoroughly and with enthusiasm, covering the process behind the decision and variations that were discussed.
  4. Conclude presentation with a series of guiding questions
  5. Give client time to think and review before discussing
  6. Always receive formal feedback and follow-ups in writing

7 thoughts on “Project Manager and the Client

  1. This topic definitely strikes my interest. Although I do not manage projects in a large group, I do work on projects for my customers. I found that many rely on the comfort and efficiency of e-mails and other electronic communications, forgetting that part of a successful working relationship is the face to face time along with building trust in one another.

    I work with products that have little innovation and are considered mature products. I therefore rely heavily on the relationship building aspect. Having the ability to successfully develop relationships with customers is a powerful skill that will always continue to play a role in the business world, regardless of how advanced technology with become. This skill translates to every industry, and nearly every profession. It is key to managing projects, but it is also key to being successful in any field. While technology is beneficial in many aspects, it may not be always be the best avenue of conducting a business transaction.

    Thanks for these articles and discussing this topic!

    You may also enjoy this article:

  2. Great articles, thank you for posting. While I do not manage large group projects, I do work in sales/partnership development. The whole purpose of my job is to establish a relationship with people who work for the brands we are selling to. We develop creative sponsorship plans for these brands to activate in sports and to do that we must understand what the customer needs and we must communicate to them how we can use our properties to achieve their goals.
    A key point you mentioned was the physical touch points with clients. This is extremely important in my industry, where most contact begins online or with a phone call, but the successful relationships always include person to person interactions. These in person meetings help the client develop trust in you, and makes future communication smoother.

  3. Hi Sara:

    I enjoyed this blog post thoroughly, due to the fact that this discussion is very specific and germane to what I do within my company. As manager of the sales office, I am integrated into project teams for new applications with which I have sold. I often work with the lead Program Manager to work through the soft skills/delivery of information to our customer and the associated milestone obligations and contractual documents that were agreed to at project start.

    As this is the case, I often see the issues that arise from poor project management in terms of the external customer; our program managers can communicate deliverable items internally and ensure that they are on track, but often times I see our PM NOT including our customer in those communications. I feel that this creates a gap in knowledge and expectations.

    So, on to my comment. Regarding the six-short steps, do you think that there are some additional “soft steps” that should be included within this? I think the steps are great, but would recommend to supplement the steps with:

    2a – After explaining the deliverable, receive feedback from the customer to ensure alignment.

    As an example, we often have “gate reviews” which present progress, and additionally, have contractual deliverable documents to gain customer approvals. I have noticed that a solid PM presents the deliverable checklist EXTERNAL to the customer, and identifies what will and even more importantly, what will NOT be provided. After customer discussion, an agreement is in place so that the customer sees what the group is working towards. This often creates more understanding with respect to extensions, time/cost, and scope. It eliminates potential scope creep because it is an iteration of the project definition and encourages a second agreement towards the original scope.

    I present this addition due to my experience in which reviews are held and there are GAPS in expectations. This tends to lead to the PM bugaboo – “RE”, as in “re-do, re-work, re-quote, re-review, and re-approve”. That cycle of “RE” can be vicious in terms of time, cost and scope. Usually, projects do not include “RE” in the plan!

    I wonder if you would agree that this type of iterative inclusion of the customer would improve the Project Manager/Client relationship even further?

    1. Sam both you and Arif’s comment below talk about feedback from the client. I agree with your comment that there could be a 2a in the six steps to get feedback from the client. Without feedback throughout the process, how do you know how you are doing? Often times I see management ask the question to our clients – “What can we be doing better?” In my field if we are always performing above expectations, then the client is more likely to bring us business in the future. “Soft steps” are always going to be needed in any line of work. What is important is to understand what type of “soft steps” is the client going to be receptive of. Some may want the face-to-face while others prefer not to be contacted often.

      So to answer your last question Sam, yes I agree that inclusion of the customer can only improve the relationship between the project manager and client.

  4. This is a great article, thanks for posting. The six steps to represent deliverables are ones that I will apply to my job. Currently I work for my family business and organization is key. By utilizing the steps outlined in your article I am sure that I will be able to effectively manage a team and remain organized through completion of the project. Feedback is also key in helping to update and improve on past projects.

  5. The role of the honest educator is really, an excellent foundation for anyone in a client service capacity. Our customers are at the end of the day the ones we serve. This is something that I often notice with the less experienced members of my team, specifically, that they will push against a vacuum, with zero foundation, and then when it comes time to make contact with a buyer (we broker, so buy and sell side) it’s most often observed that the deal shatters on first contact. This seems to be consistent with the rubber meeting the road in project management when the team rallies together, and finds it has no substance on which to start putting focus towards, no common connective theme amongst the members of the group. Being clear about the deliverable (foundation) must be done with equally proportionate care throughout the entirety of the process. Each part is inherently of equal importance, as missing any element, will cause the whole system to fall short of it’s intended goal/target. The details up front, will yield a dividend further down the road. That’s something that will apply to the core of project management, but in tons of other areas of business as well!

  6. Hi Sara!

    Great write-up! I think you’ve made some really good points in your blog post. One of the things I’ve been trying to learn more about, both here and in other classes at DePaul, is how the soft side of business best pairs with the more dry and analytical business functions. In the project management position, it seems like one would have to be very versatile, moving between left-brain and right-brain with relative ease.

    I like in particular your focus on the importance of having successful communications with the customer, whether they be internal or external. Coordination and communication doesn’t start and stop with the project team. A strong project team (and project manager) absolutely has to be able to interface with stakeholders and customers, and it has to be more than just a sterile project update. It’s important to be able to bring information to the table in a tasteful but candid way. You don’t want to risk (either deliberately or accidentally) misrepresenting your team’s progress and ultimate goal, nor do you want to miss the opportunity to solicit feedback from the client. Communication is a critical part of the process, and it really has to be part of a project manager’s core competency.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *