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When Project Management is a Four Letter Word

~ By Brad Egeland

Businessman holding a board with Project Manager written on it

Most project managers add incredible value to the engagement. I, personally, could not imagine a project run without that kind of leadership. In my mind, it would be a disorganised mess. I hope that most of the clients that I have run projects for would agree with this statement.

However, what happens when you have those customers who, for whatever reason, aren't fond of project managers? Maybe they don't see the value in paying for a PM. Maybe they had a bad experience with an ineffective project manager on a recent engagement. Maybe they have their own PM and see no need for two, or maybe they are just extremely budget-conscious and are afraid the PM position will charge unnecessary time for the effort.

Whatever the reason, we have a customer who is not fond of us - even though they don't really know us. What do we do?

I've had this happen…and here is my recommendation if it happens to you:

Don't take it personally. Never take it too personally. Your customer doesn't know you…yet. He or she is acting on a perceived fear, a concern, or a bad experience from another project manager. Be pleasant, not defensive; communicate well, and listen carefully to what they are saying so as to look for needs that you and your team can tend to.

Look for ways to add value to the engagement without adding too much cost. Manage remotely. Don't go to the customer's site unless absolutely necessary (thus keeping travel costs down), and look for ways to provide detailed status reporting because that is a very cost effective way to keep your customer well informed unobtrusively.

Manage the team well. Keep the team in check. Show the customer that you are on top of everything - including your team. When the customer perceives that the project manager is maintaining good control of his team and the project, that's when they start seeing great value from the PM.

Communicate. I can't stress enough the value of good project manager communication on every project. It is the number one priority for the PM, and not all are great at it…so do your best to master the art of communication. And over-communicate with the customer because the more informed they feel, the more satisfied they tend to be, and the more value they see from you.

The bottom line is this: As project managers, we can add considerable value to any project engagement. We can do it by being everywhere and doing everything. That seems to be the norm rather than the exception. However, when our project customer is not a "project manager friendly" project customer, we can also do it by staying out of the way. It may frustrate us, and it may make us feel insignificant or possibly even a bit out of the loop, but the main concern should always be, "what makes the customer happy?" If they are never going to see the full value of the PM, then we may need to lessen our role…and that's OK…this one time.


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