Structured, rigidly adhered to project management principles and practices have their place. No question about it. Be stubborn, stick to your guns, be unwavering. You know the drill. But, from most of our experiences, we know that adhering to that train of thought will only get you so far when you’re dealing with clients who are somewhat vague on what they need you to do for them. They’re relying on your expertise and creativity to guide them down a path that they kind of know they need to be on. At the end of that path may be a solution that they have no idea or concept of – but they’re certainly hoping that you do – or you will soon.
In the world of project management it is important to make good decisions and stick to them. But you’re going to have to be flexible on every engagement – it’s just how the world of project management works. But know the boundaries – just the right amount of flexibility and the customer will love you forever. Go overboard or remain unwavering and you may not finish out the current project.
Let’s look at two concepts that fall under the ‘flexibility’ category:
Embrace new processes
As an experienced IT project manager you undoubtedly have a set way you like to do things. You have templates for proposals, status reporting, invoices, and meeting notes. You do things pretty much the same for each client to get things underway on an assignment. And if you’re part of an organization or PMO and not working independently as a consultant, then there are definitely processes and templates that you are expected to follow. But every once in awhile you run across that client who has their own processes and plans for how things are going to go. Right? You won’t win them over by being inflexible. That particular client won’t feel warm and fuzzy because you have all of your ducks in a row. No, that client may be put off by your lack of flexibility and will see you as unwilling to follow the ‘boss’ and may immediately categorize you as stubborn and move on to the next potential service provider.
Rather than fight them, be open to their processes and how they want things done. How they do things may be governed more by accounting or business objectives than your stakeholder’s desires. As your project progresses you can look for ways to show them how your processes or templates may enhance the engagement and drive the relationship to a more organized and successful conclusion. But, with certain clients, enforcing your will on them at the outset of the project when they have different desires may be a very wrong thing to do.
Criticism – give and take
The ability to give and take criticism can actually mean that you’ve ‘arrived’ as an experienced project manager and IT professional. Once you have the confidence level with your PM or consulting expertise to be able give criticism where it is due AND also take criticism constructively and use it to your advantage to better yourself, then you know you’re in a good place. Less experienced project managers may wilt when criticized and it may greatly affect their confidence level for the rest of the engagement. They may also be unable to critique and criticize others constructively because they lack confidence in their own judgment.
I was being paid by a CEO of a small data management organization to run several projects for him a few years ago. I adhered to item # 1 above, but I probably shouldn’t have. He wanted me to basically act in his role at times and lead weekly meetings of the entire staff to get status updates while also running these projects. My first inclination was to ask each person to prepare and submit a status report to me so that I could compile a company status report and agenda for the meeting. It’s just how I roll. He said, “You can’t ask them to do that – just hold the meeting.” Needless to say, attendance continued to be sparse as it was before, no one took it seriously and at the end of my consulting run he questioned my project management abilities. All of this even though I successfully led projects for him for several months and all of his clients were satisfied with the outcomes on their projects.
That engagement was a lessons learned for me because I could really see early on that the client was going to be a little difficult. I bent to their wishes and I didn’t end up with a really satisfied client, but I was able to make good money while I was consulting for them. In this example, flexibility paid off financially for me, but not in maintaining a long-term relationship with client. In the end I was confident with that because I was able to take the criticism in the context it was given and move on to the next client.
Whether you’re working to satisfy that less than easy-to-work-with client in order to maintain the working relationship or you understand there’s no pleasing them and you want to maintain the working relationship as long as possible to get the money out of the engagement that you had counted on, there are times when flexibility is necessary – and can pay off nicely.
The experienced IT project manager sees these situations in advance and acts accordingly. The new project manager begins to learn from engagements that just didn’t go very well and becomes more flexible, when necessary, for future projects. I realize this is written more for the consultant and consulting PM, but it applies to the PM who is part of a larger organization as well. The overall concept is being flexible to keep customer satisfaction and customer retention high. Embrace flexibility, but be aware of what you’re getting into.