In this series we’re going to begin a five-parter on some things we can do on our projects to manage smarter, not harder. There are things we do as project managers that are definitely ‘chores’. Things we wish we didn’t have to put so much effort into like today when I’m trying to get a very small amount of medication into my 19 month old son and he’s preparing his gag reflex like its the end of the world. I figured out to gently blow in his face to distract him and it becomes somewhat easier to administer. OK, my wife gave me that tip, but you get the picture.
There are many things we do that are problematic on many of our projects and we think…”only if…” Those are the things we need to figure out how to do without so much pain and effort. And the first one of those things that I will cover in this Part 1 is the concept of making the customer participate.
Ever had one of those project clients that initiate a project with you, feigned interest in a project kickoff and then disappeared? Well, I have and it’s happened more times than I care to remember. Sure, they have their day job – meaning their regular work assignments to stay up on – and this project may have been dumped on them. But it is still THEIR project and they need to be participant.
How do you make that happen? I have a method I call AIM. It stands for Assign, Inform, and Manage. And I lay this out for them at project kickoff time. Just in case they weren’t listening I explain it again during the early project phases – especially if I sense that customer participation or engagement is lacking.
Basically, AIM is this:
Assign. I make sure that the customer has some key tasks in the project that they are responsible for and accountable to me and the project team for throughout. It’s important that their tasks be spread out throughout the project so as to keep them fully engaged on a continual basis. I really don’t care if the project sponsor delegates everything to someone else on their team, as long as I have a point person on their side who is at every meeting and ready weekly to give me progress reports and discuss the project.
Inform. The ‘inform’ concept is the process I go through to let the project sponsor or whoever on their side know what their responsibilities are. I explain the communication process and how they are expected to participate and be represented in each key meeting and I also explain what their assignments are and how to use the project schedule to understand, track, and report progress on those assignments to me.
Manage. The ‘manage’ concept is pretty straightforward. I manage the customer and their assignments closely by never cancelling weekly status calls no matter how little there is to discuss. I don’t want to give them any reason to become disengaged with the project. That way they know that they are accountable on a weekly basis for their tasks and status updates to me. Basically, manage the customer closely every week and use the project schedule as an ongoing tool for making that management task as easy as possible.
My AIM process isn’t groundbreaking…we need to use whatever works for our project and customer. I have found that it works well for me in setting expectations with the customer and keeping them engaged. That way, also, they are never far away when I need them for info or input on a key decision.