Published on Saturday, May 02, 2009
In four previous articles, I’ve covered 10 characteristics of what I consider to be key for a good Project Manager. So far we’ve covered:
I thought I was done…but maybe I will never be done with this thread. Therefore, I’m writing Part 5 covering the characteristic of Honesty. Being honest with your customer. Seems easy, doesn’t it?
Fearing the Repercussions
Here’s the problem…we don’t like to give the customer bad news. We fear we’ll lose favor. We fear they’ll ask that we be replaced as the PM. We fear that it will appear as though we’re not in control. Fear, fear, fear…if we follow our fear we’ll never accomplish anything.
One thing I learned very early on working on contracts with the U.S. Department of Education is that you need to be open and honest with your customer. I found that going the honest route swiftly meant that we had two groups working on a solution because ultimately if you succeed, the customer also succeeds. It’s in their best interests to help you work through problems, timeframe concerns and budget concerns.
A Bad Call
The only time I’ve withheld info from a customer was when I was forced to and I deeply regretted it. We never recovered from it and the project was lost. I had worked on that particular project for more than 8 months and it was cancelled due to a budget overrun that could have been worked through had I been open and upfront with the customer as quickly as possible. Instead, I had to spring it on them late and was never able to regain their trust.
The best way to approach it is to realize that the customer and their project team are really just an extension of your project team. Not all projects run smoothly and certainly not all customers are friendly and work well and play well with others. Some can drive you absolutely crazy.
But the 50% that do seem to team up with you and are working beside you every step of the way only want to see the project do well and the PM to perform successfully. It’s a joint effort. Therefore, it is almost never in any project’s best interest to keep the bad news from the customer.
Hopefully we learn that early on in our marriages (and adhere to it most of the time!) and it plays out the same on our projects. Document the concerns and issues on the issues list, put them in front of your customer on status calls and in the status reports and track them. Make it a joint effort and you stand a better chance of successful resolution and happy customer retention.
I realize this may be oversimplifying the situation. Certainly there are some cases where it’s not necessarily in the project’s best interest to share problems with your customer immediately. But once you’ve assessed it on the delivery team side, share and work through it with your customer.
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