I recently witnessed two projects executed within weeks of each other. Both projects were related to the rollout of major technology solutions for significant, well-established corporations.
What was different about the projects were the dynamics between the client and the project team — specifically, the way the client engaged and worked with the project team. One project was successful, and the other was not.
In my opinion, the success as well as the failure was largely because of the dynamics between the client and project team.
I am definitely not implying that any project gone awry is the client’s fault. In fact, I believe it’s the project manager’s primary responsibility to facilitate all points below. But unless the client is willing to observe and adhere to these guidelines, the project is already in jeopardy.
Think about it.
Here is a working list of guidelines that can help clients and other stakeholders work with a project team and deliver a successful project:
1. Be transparent.A good project team realizes there are going to be unique variables and circumstances it will need to address. Be upfront and candid with the project team about the challenges or risks in accomplishing the project goals. It is much more productive to get everything on the table upfront versus waiting for it to be discovered while executing the project.
2. Stay engaged and responsive. One school of thought says a good client stays out of the way of a project team and without too much micromanagement. This can be true to some extent.
However, clients must work with the project team to ensure there are open channels of communication. Information or clarification must be provided quickly and concisely, and preferably in writing. Ideally, one or two people on the client side have the knowledge and authority to speak for the entire client team. This is especially important when providing critical input such as requirements, milestone approvals and strategic guidance. Without this representation, the project team has to chase down information, and there is greater risk of them getting it wrong.
The project manager must facilitate these activities and provide the framework in which they occur, but this is a two-way street.
As a client, if you cannot make the time and emotional commitment to communicate, then postpone the project until the time is better. Otherwise, we all risk having to do it over again.
3. Be decisive and time sensitive. Recognize that there are going to be hard decisions to be made in terms of requirements, tradeoffs, budget, timing and resources. If a decision cannot be made on the spot, define a window of time in which you will get back to the team with an answer and respect that commitment. As noted above, if it’s going to take time to get an answer, let the project team know this ahead of time.
4. The laws of physics still apply. As nice as it would be to bend the laws of physics, project teams are not capable of making three-day tasks in just two. Project managers do sometimes pad their timelines to allow for project creep or addressing other unseen emergencies. But recognize that this is done due to experience from previous projects and is an effort to account for the “unseen” challenges that inevitably crop up in your efforts.
Forcing a team to schedule its project activities in exacting increments for the sake of impressing company executives, for example, introduces a risk that some unforeseen event will cause that project to run late. What other guidelines would you add to this list?
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