Have You Ever Played Chess with Your Client’s Project Manager?

We understand the value of being onsite with a client for projects that may be in trouble. While effective, this introduces an interesting dynamic as it relates to working with the Client’s Project Manager. It can be likened to playing a chess game where you have to think many moves ahead in order to make it to the end of the game.

We are not equating the Client’s PM to an opponent, but consider the following scenario. The project is in Red status for delivery to the Client. The job of the Client’s PM is to escalate issues and risks as soon as they become known and aggressively search out new problems. This is being done with a heightened sense of vigilance due to the fact that the project has slipped into Red status. Your job, on the other hand, is to instill confidence that everything is coming together and to be realistic about what is being reported as an issue or risk.

How can you work through these two seemingly opposing agendas and not end up in checkmate where both sides lose? Below are four suggestions:

  • Candidly Establish that Your Goals are the Same – Both of you want a successful implementation of the project, period. Have an open conversation with the Client’s PM to discuss this fact and that you understand how they have to operate in the current environment. But, they also need to understand that there are certain things they can do (for example, raising false alarms) that will result in unnecessarily consuming resources time from both sides that is already scarce.
  • Only Deal with the Facts – This is a time during a project that emotions are running high. People are working long hours and can become tired and frustrated. It’s easy for either side to say or report on activity in the context of “I feel that…” or “I think that…” This only serves to exacerbate the situation if these statements are not correct. Establish a common fact set and report against those in the context of “It is…” or “We are…” Remove subjectivity and the need for interpretation as often as you can.
  • Take / Make Every Opportunity to Work with Client Teams and Management – A large benefit of being onsite is that you can have face time with members of your client’s team and management. Don’t hole up in a cube or lab somewhere and not take (or make) every opportunity to get in front your client’s resources and management. It can be in the hallway, in the break room, or a more formal setting. It will allow you to provide your view on matters and give the Client a perspective from both sides.
  • Acknowledge if Mistakes were Made – The bottom line is that mistakes had to be made along the way from both sides or the project would not be in Red status. Denying something that happened that is clearly your team’s responsibility undermines your credibility. Take ownership and then fix it.

One more point to keep in mind.  If your role and the Client’s PM role were reversed, you would both be acting the same way as each other is now.  Leverage each other’s strengths, minimize the extremes (both overstating and understating the issues) and work on getting it done!

So, what are some of the challenges you have come across when you need to work with a client PM on a troubled project? What have you done to remove subjectivity out of the relationship and prevent a checkmate where both sides lose?


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