Can I Do Without a Project Manager?
I realize that many of us on the project management side can’t fathom this even being a question. A project without a manager! How does that even work? Calling all project managers – have you ever been thrust into that situation on a project where the client questions your ‘value’ to the project? They wonder why your hours are so expensive or maybe they even have their own project manager and wonder why you’re even on the project. Have you ever experienced that? Well, I have. Only once – but it wasn’t fun.
Most project managers have experienced the engagement when the client was a little less than thrilled to be paying a high hourly rate for someone they considered to be somewhat ‘expendable.’ And if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it probably will at some point. Most clients are fairly well educated in the process of project management and understand the importance of having a trained, experienced project manager leading a group of resources on a creative project designed to benefit their client approach, greatly enhance their web presence, or possibly provide them with an entire marketing overhaul. They understand that without proper oversight, chaos would likely ensue. But there are still those clients who see the project manager being billed at sometimes the highest rate on the project and they wonder what they are really getting for their money.
If that happens to you, then you need to show your value. You can talk till you can’t say any more, but until you show it, they probably won’t believe it. So how do we go about showing our project clients the value of our experienced PM efforts?
On the projects where it’s a genuine client concern or issue, it usually boils down to these three key steps or potential actions to prove your ‘worth’ to the client (whether you like it or not!)….
Minimalist leadership. This approach takes some creativity, remote management, and absolute trust in the project team members that you’ve assigned to the key tasks to get the job done. This process was critical to my efforts to turn around the doubting client that I mentioned above. The client was located several states away and we needed to go onsite. I sent two individuals from team but refrained from going onsite myself. The budget was the big concern for the client so I showed “value” by effectively managing from afar while minimalizing expense by not adding PM travel expenses to the mix. This greatly pleased the client, the work was a success and the client ended up being very satisfied with the overall project as well as my efforts as the PM on the engagement.
Rapid response. Fast response is important in any urgent situation. But the project manager who is quick to respond to client requests, inquiries and needs will have a much easier time showing value than the PM who is distant from the project client or seems too busy running multiple projects to quickly respond to client calls and emails. I’ve had my share of times of work overload where I was running five or six projects at a time. And yes, some projects are more important or critical than others at any given moment.
Through experience you gain a sense of when a client is uneasy about a project or may be questioning the value of the PM’s or team’s efforts. It’s those times when it’s extremely important for the project manager to go above and beyond the call of duty in hand-holding the client through any issues or areas of concern. If you are a project manager and you feel like your client facing skills are a weakness, you must at least fake it till you make it because one of the fastest ways to show PM value to the client is to be available to them at any given moment for any request - no matter how small, and respond quickly.
Information overload. Finally, overload the client with information. Keep them in the loop on any important project info and decision-making – just as you would your project team. A client who feels they are not getting the critical information will become dissatisfied and disengaged…and your next communication may come from your own CEO after the client has called him to express their displeasure with your performance in the project leadership role. Don’t be clichy and too casual with the client and certainly don’t send them needless project info, but do conduct regular weekly status meetings with them, provide them with timely status reports and budget updates, and be sure to include them regularly on any emails that provide meaningful project information.
The key with some clients is to show value without being “too present.” With these types of project clients, the more they see of the project manager, the more they think they are paying needlessly for PM services and oversight that they deem unnecessary. Provide information and show progress. But for the client with extreme budget concerns or PM aversions, try to show value from the background so they see progress, not budget burn.