This one is more for the independent consulting project managers than it is for the project manager who is an employee of the organization he’s running projects for.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve rarely had too much say in what creative projects I was going to lead when I was in the company-employee relationship status.

Now that I’m an independent consultant, the idea is that I can pick and choose who I’m leading projects for.  Yes, and no.  I can – assuming I can afford to lose potential clients.   And yes, I thankfully can afford to lose some potential clients.  But I still can’t toss away every one I may want to and I don’t want to burn too many bridges.

So how do we decide which projects to take and which ones to pass on?  Is there a magical formula?  No.  Are there signs we can look for that may give us an indication of how things might go for us with a given client on a project or consulting engagement?  Yes, but you have to listen carefully and sometimes read between the lines.  Here are a few to look out for:

The client who knows everything

Heading into an engagement with a client who believes they know everything – including how the project should be run and what technology must be used – can be a major headache for the project manager.  Setting the tone early on that your delivery team is in charge and will identify and recommend the best possible solution may be very beneficial in keeping this type of client quiet.  However, if it’s apparent that it’s going to be ‘their way or else’ you may want to avoid them altogether.

The client looking for free work

The client who is looking for free work is dangerous from a scope management and budget management perspective.  If you’re an independent PM, I can see a reason to work with this type of client if it’s a tendency you can see before you’ve finalized any contract or agreement.  This type of client will always give you a struggle when it comes time to agree to change orders for work that needs to be accomplished that is outside of the original scope of the project.  Your team that is working closely with this client may even get frequent requests for small out of scope efforts that when taken as a whole can do a lot of damage to the project schedule and budget.  Either run away from this client or educate your team on these tactics and manage the client very closely.

The hurry up client

The client who is in a hurry to get started may put too little weight in good project planning and detailed project requirements documentation.   While moving forward with the ‘real work’ on the project may sound enticing, on detailed, long-term projects it can be a recipe for disaster if the planning shortcuts lead to rework and budget issues – which is likely the case.  Every time you try to show this client how the schedule needs to run, using a detailed visual tool like Seavus’ Project Viewer that works seamlessly with MS Project, they may push back on timeframes and want milestones and deliverables accelerated.  This type of client needs to be avoided or at least educated in the value of proper project planning efforts and their affect on overall project success.