This is an interesting question. Is the customer your friend? defines a friend as follows:

  • A person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard
  • A person who gives assistance; patron; supporter
  • A person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile

If you consider those definitions, then for the most part, your customer is your friend. But let’s look deeper.

The Relationship

What type of relationship do you usually have with your customers? Look at your most successful projects. Did you develop close, friendly relationships with your customers or anyone on the customer team?

I believe good relations are in order during and after a project. You can even become best friends after the project engagement, but during the project it should remain somewhat less familiar and definitely all business. For the same reason I’m not a fan of being close friends with a “boss” or “manager”, I’m also not a fan of being close friends with your customer.

There will always be a time – on every project – when tough decisions need to be made. Where you must be above reproach and able to ensure that you – as the Project Manager and point person – are making the best possible decisions for your organization, your delivery team personnel and the good of the project. Your relationship with the customer or anyone on the customer team should never come into question. And it certainly should never affect your professional or personal integrity or the perception of how you conduct your business.

The Premise

This is an odd article, I know…but one I felt I should write. I’ve seen too many times when the relationships between one or more delivery team members and one or more customer team members becomes too familiar and decision-making suffers. This can especially happen in war-room settings when the two teams are thrown together in close proximity to work for several days or even several weeks to get through a critical phase or issue on a project.

The progress being made and the camaraderie can be a good thing – as long as it is enjoyed in moderation. Keep it professional – the dinners, the drinking, the communications. Sometimes too much can be said and in the long run it can cause problems on the implementation and can even invite legal issues if things go south later.

Keep it Professional

This is a view from a different angle on the project engagement and the relationships among the team members, but it is important to consider. When you’re working with the customer, you’re still representing your company (or professionally yourself if you’re acting independently).

Keep in mind that no one is immune to legal action and over-familiarity with the company paying you is not usually a good thing. Keep the discussions as professional as possible, avoid inside information and especially gossip, and plan for the future of the project and your professional future when considering what information and topics to discuss with your customer.