A big, if not the biggest, part of my job as a web project manager is dealing with clients. This isÂ actuallyÂ the part of the job I enjoy the most and see the client as, very much, a part of the project team. I have found that an honest and transparentÂ approachÂ is best when dealing withÂ query’sÂ and problems andÂ involvingÂ clients in the general processes of the project (as much as they are able) leads to a smoother road for all concerned.
I have said this before but I see a PM’s role as one of facilitation. I need to enable people to do what they are good at and I need to, whereverÂ possible, stay out of the way. To some extent, this includes client communication.
I recently read a good post by John Reeve; Project Managers: Why every creative agency needs one. In this article he talks about theÂ PM’s role of ambassador. A go-between between the client and the production team. While I agree that this can beÂ necessaryÂ at times I see this as only aÂ temporaryÂ role.
As PM I need to be aware of all communications. I need to have Â a complete overview of the project and understand what is going on when and who needs to do what next. This doesn’t mean that I need to be a middle man. While I still hold on to my technical routes, the chances are, when a client has a question or a problem of aÂ technicalÂ nature I will not know the answer. Â I will need to go and ask the tech team.Â Similarly, with a design based question, I generally have no hope without first consulting the design team. So why should I get in way?
Expose your team
We have found itÂ usefulÂ to introduce the client to the team at the earliest possible stage in the process. Wherever possible the lead designer and lead tech on a project will be at the project kick-off meeting. Â The team will take a lead in conference calls where questions or discussions are to be had about their area of expertise. As long as I am kept in the loop then there is no reason for me as PM act as messenger boy.
When this process works well the client feels more connected with the process and, as they get to know the team, have a greater level ofÂ confidenceÂ in the theÂ time-scales, quality control andÂ ultimately, the deliverable.
Obviously, some relationships are difficult. This is where the role of “ambassador” goes on for longer than is ideal. As PM it isÂ importantÂ to spot and manage these situations so as to still produce the required results and get the job done. I have found this to be a rareÂ scenario.
Openness andÂ transparencyÂ as an approach needs toÂ stretch throughout theÂ structureÂ of the project. This includesÂ exposingÂ your team to your clients.
What is your experience?
As aÂ designerÂ or a developer, what is yourÂ experienceÂ of Â dealing directly with a client? As a client, what is yourÂ experienceÂ of talking directly to production teamÂ membersÂ or maybe your experience of not being able to? PM’s, do you have experience of this approach going horrible wrong?