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

The Wisdom of Project Management Maxims and the Importance of Balance

In reading the project management maxims from Chapter 10, I was reminded of the importance of finding balance when serving as a project manager.

Maxim One: You can’t do it all and get it all done – projects usually involve a vast web of relationships.

When managing a project, equally important as the question of what has to get done is the question of who is going to do it. Project managers who focus on the list of tasks at the expense of the resources needed to complete those tasks often find themselves behind schedule and over budget. Without the cooperation of all stakeholders, projects are likely to fail. Even if a resource is assigned to a project, you will not likely get their best effort unless relationships are established centered on common goals. I have seen project managers attempt to use position power rather than influence to disastrous effect.  Recognizing you cannot do it alone will help you focus on balancing the “what” along with the “who” of a project, leading to better project results.  Establishing clear expectations of how a project will be managed will help maintain balance. In the article “10 Best Practices for Successful Project Management”, Tom Mochal notes the importance of ensuring “the project team and all stakeholders have a common understanding of how the project will be managed”.

Maxim Two: Hands-on work is not the same as leading – more pressure and involvement can reduce your effectiveness as a leader.

This too is a matter of finding balance. Project managers who simply direct from on high are less effective than those who know enough about the project and the work being done to speak from a position of credibility. Making requests without understanding the impact of the request on those expected to do the work leads to resistance amongst the project team.   On the other hand, if project managers become daily contributors, they lose the vantage point necessary to enable them to effectively manage the project. Project managers who are willing to contribute at critical moments in a project earn the respect of the team and help ensure the success of a project. Going beyond that makes a project manager one of the team and not a leader, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the position.

What’s important to you likely isn’t as important to someone else – different groups have different stakes (responsibilities, agendas, and priorities) in the outcome of a project.

You have to balance the needs of all stakeholders; those you report to regarding the project, those who will benefit from the project, and those you need to get the work done.  I have seen project managers focus the majority of their attention on their project sponsor while ignoring the other stakeholders.  In the short run, their close relationship with the sponsor is viewed as positive. However, as other stakeholders became disconnected and the quality of effort and work product suffers, the attention paid to the project sponsor did not outweigh the lack of project results.  Communicating with all stakeholders at each stage of the project helps ensure all stakeholders’ needs are recognized and leads to engagement in project outcomes.