~ By Brad Egeland
You know the feeling…you're cruising along and thinking your performance – perhaps even the entire team's performance on a project – is exactly what the customer expects, and then, BAM!…you find out that this just isn't the case. In the most surprising moment of my career, I thought I was meeting with my manager to get a long-awaited promotion and increase in pay when, in fact, I was being let go because the company was struggling. So, maybe I'm not always the most intuitive person.
But, seriously, have you ever gotten to the end of a project, thinking things had really gone well, and then been surprised that your customer was not excited about everything that happened on the project – including how you handled the project and how your team performed on the engagement? Or, have you ever been pulled from a project and been replaced by another project manager, then been surprised that the customer wasn't happy with how things were going? I have experience of the former scenario, but never the latter thankfully. However, I have seen it happen to others, and I have been the one called in to take over for a PM who the customer did not want around anymore. How does it get to that point? Does the customer just not like you? What did you do? Where did things go wrong? And can you make it right with the customer?
If this happens, and your project is like most projects, it's usually not specifically an issue with you as the project manager, it's just issues overall. It's like when the head coach of a football team gets fired. Rarely can poor project performance be attributed to one individual, but someone has to take the fall. And on a project, it has to be the project manager first, because they are like the head coach. Replace the head coach and you still have the same team. The customer knows that, but they're hoping a change in leadership may wake the team up and get things moving in a better direction.
There is still the issue of what got us to that breaking point-and whether it could have been avoided. And if so, how? I firmly believe that communication is the key to project success-and it starts and ends with the customer. If you keep the customer in the loop, keep them engaged, and keep checking on how they think things are going, then you are far less likely to find yourself suddenly out of a job or without a project.
Let's consider the following actions or steps to take to make sure we avoid these uncomfortable and unfortunate situations…
It is absolutely critical that you periodically stop and take the pulse of the project. If you neglect the customer and fail to keep the communication flowing, to check on how they think things are going and keep them engaged, then eventually you are likely to create a rift or distance between yourself and the customer. If they know you care about what they think, in terms of project health, because you are asking on a regular basis, then they will come to you – even if you aren't asking. That is what you want…you want to be the first to know if the customer is unhappy, because that is the best way for you to take corrective action, and it is in the best interests of the project. Also, check in with your team just as you would with the customer, because issues can come up with your project team that can affect the performance of both the team and the project. Again, it is all about frequent, effective, efficient, and meaningful communication. Practice that, and you can't go wrong.
In Part 2 of this two-part series, we will discuss more about when to have these check-ins and what types of questions to raise during these discussions.