Project managers: the great ambassadors of our time

 

A big, if not the biggest, part of my job as a web project manager is dealing with clients. This is actually 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 transparent approach is best when dealing with query’s and problems and involving 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, wherever possible, stay out of the way. To some extent, this includes client communication.

The ambassador

I recently read a good post by John Reeve; Project Managers: Why every creative agency needs one. In this article he talks about the PM’s role of ambassador. A go-between between the client and the production team. While I agree that this can be necessary at times I see this as only a temporary role.

As PM I need to be aware of all communications. I need to have  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 a technical nature I will not know the answer.  I will need to go and ask the tech team. 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 it useful 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.  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 of confidence in the the time-scales, quality control and 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 is important 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 rare scenario.

Openness and transparency as an approach needs to stretch throughout the structure of the project. This includes exposing your team to your clients.

What is your experience?

As a designer or a developer, what is your experience of  dealing directly with a client? As a client, what is your experience of talking directly to production team members or maybe your experience of not being able to? PM’s, do you have experience of this approach going horrible wrong?

  • http://www.thesambarnes.com Sam Barnes

    Great post Rob!

    I totally agree with the idea of getting the production leads involved with the client. Not only does it get the right people talking, it also cuts down on time needed by the PM to manage projects, thus being able to manage more in parallel.

    The only negatives I’ve experienced are when the client starts to cut the PM out of the loop and talk directly with the lead, and the lead starts to action things without you knowing that are affecting the project in some way as things like schedules and budgets arent taken into consideration.

    Of course this can be minimised by having an on-going understanding with your leads that you need to be made aware if this starts to happen.

    As for transparency, it’s the only way to fly in my opinion. When things are going well it’s great, but the real benefit comes when things start to go wrong. The trust established previously always seems to make a client more understanding to problems.

  • Rob Borley

    You are right Sam. There have been occasions where a client has tried to circumvent me in an attempt to squeeze something extra out of the team. It is something that needs to be watched for as it can cause problems as you have described.

    The team are getting pretty good now at spotting this and putting me back in the loop.