I am a consulting project manager rather than one working directly for an organization. So this article may be a bit more applicable to the consultant who has more options to turn down projects (although income is essential and nice). Working as a W2 employee – or even as a contractor within the organization – I don’t think I’ve ever really had the option to say no to a project that was assigned to me…but then again I don’t think I ever tried to say no. If you’re not a consultant and do have the right of first refusal when assigned new projects, then this article is also for you. Independent consultants can say yes or no – but if you want income and don’t want to burn bridges with potential clients in the future, you want your no’s to be for good reason….and infrequent.
So how do we decide which projects to take and which ones to pass on? There is no magical formula, but I contend that there are signs we can look for that may give us an indication of how things might go for us with a given client on a project or consulting engagement? However, we have to listen carefully and sometimes read between the lines. Here are a few signs that I always try to look out for:
The know-it-all client
Heading into an engagement with a client who believes they know everything – including how the project should be run and what technology must be used – can be a major headache for the project manager. Setting the tone early on that your delivery team is in charge and will identify and recommend the best possible solution may be very beneficial in keeping this type of client quiet. However, if it’s apparent that it’s going to be ‘their way or else’ you may want to avoid them altogether.
The freebie client
The client who is looking for free work is dangerous from a scope management and budget management perspective. If you’re an independent PM, I can see a reason to work with this type of client if it’s a tendency you can see before you’ve finalized any contract or agreement. This type of client will always give you a struggle when it comes time to agree to change orders for work that needs to be accomplished that is outside of the original scope of the project. Your team that is working closely with this client may even get frequent requests for small out of scope efforts that when taken as a whole can do a lot of damage to the project schedule and budget. Either run away from this client or educate your team on these tactics and manage the client very closely.
The start-producing-now client
The client who is in a hurry to get started may put too little weight in good project planning and detailed project requirements documentation. While moving forward with the ‘real work’ on the project may sound enticing, on detailed, long-term projects it can be a recipe for disaster if the planning shortcuts lead to rework and budget issues – which is likely the case. Every time you try to show this client how the schedule needs to run, they may push back on timeframes and want milestones and deliverables accelerated. This type of client needs to be avoided or at least educated in the value of proper project planning efforts and their affect on overall project success.
Sometimes it’s amazingly clear that your project client falls into one of these telltale categories of customers to avoid. Usually, it is not clear – at least not immediately clear. And the last thing you ever want to do is cancel on a client after you’ve already started an engagement – that’s a very easy and fast way to get a horrible reputation as a consultant and project manager. You must learn to do the best you can to identify what type of client they are during pre-sales discussions. This will definitely play to your favor during the rest of your project career.
Again, unless you’re consulting and can turn down whatever client you want, this information may not apply very well to you. But even the project manager who is in an employee situation can benefit from identifying troublesome characteristics in their client before embarking on a long-term project with them. Knowing what you might be in for can help you as you perform project planning, budgeting, risk planning, and set up project task details and timeframes in the project schedule. Be aware, ask some good upfront questions, understand their intentions and hopefully some of their characteristics before embarking on a long project relationship with your client.