Being in the technology business means that we’re really in the business of solving complex issues in a reasonable amount of time, and providing outstanding service that keeps clients happy. We’ve all been there, however, in a place where it seems each client has needs that are equally important and equally imminent. How do we manage all of the demands that working on multiple projects brings our way?
The answer is simple, really. Communication is the number one thing that can keep a client feeling satisfied, or cause a project to go off the rails. Connecting with others is a vital part of the job, whether we are project managers or developers. It is not only how, but also when we communicate with clients and our internal development teams that can keep the gears well greased and turning, or to seize up and come to a screeching halt. Hopefully these tips will help you to get the conversation going:
1) Communicate Regularly: My style is to try and be more hands off with developers, because I get being in “the zone” and having to start over with interruptions, but sometimes they are inevitable. The more we communicate with each other, and the more we communicate with clients and our teams about work being done, the easier a lot of those conversations go. I know that we think clients are super attentive to what’s going on, but I think in reality, it’s not as much as we hope they are. They’ve got businesses to run, and our projects are just a piece of that business. They need us to reach out from time to time and let them know what we’ve been up to. Regular weekly updates with an overview of completed deliverables, progress toward time line, budget, and any glaring issues should be the starting point of developing the client connection.
2) Communicate Proactively: Another thing that’s tough, is feeling like we are over-communicating, and bothering a client. I think that is perception more than reality. Obviously, we can inundate a client with little updates, which might bother a hard-working Stakeholder with a pile of work to do. If, however, we take the time to reach out when there is something of note that you want their approval on, or the moment you realize there is an issue that could delay things significantly, you will be able to stick closer to your deliverable due-dates, than if you wait until the last possible second to articulate that message. Plus, you never want a client to come asking you about something. You always want them to feel like they are in the know.
3) Communicate Accurately: This is often the most difficult part of our jobs. Estimating the amount of work in front of us can be a tricky business. It is often too easy to say that we can deliver on something in “x” hours, thinking that giving them the best-case scenario will make the client happy. The problem comes in when we are not able to hit that best-case scenario, and we have to tell the Stakeholder that it really took “x+y” hours. This will create tension and build a lack of trust on the project, because later down the line, it will affect the project time lines and budget. Then you are stuck going back to the client to ask for more time or money. That is a far worse conversation, than providing the client with a higher estimate, and coming in under that. Clients will appreciate that far more than a best-case scenario that eventually gets blown. Likewise, if a budget or project time line is in jeopardy because clients are proposing additional scope or not completing deliverables on time, we need to communicate that scope, schedule, and/or budget are at risk. This is not the same as telling a client that we cannot do what they are asking, but alerting them up front that there could be an issue later on. That way, there are no surprises.
4) Communicate In Their Best Interest: The key to a positive client experience is to let them know that you are on their side. Make sure that whether you are delivering good news, or not-so-good news, that you explain it in a way that the Stakeholder understands why what you are telling them will be the best solution for them. Always pair a challenge with an opportunity for a win. Remember, as a project team member, a company comes to you for help because you are the expert. An expert understands not only what to do, but why. Explain why your solution will be the best outcome for them, and they may not be excited about it up front, but will be far happier when they see the final product.
5) Communicate Equitably: Show some love to everybody. It can be difficult to remember to work on the $5000 project in light of the $60,000 one, but they both came to you, and you agreed to help them. It requires that we do “something” to touch each client with open to-do’s weekly, to show progress. This can be most easily done by setting percentages for each project, and making sure that you put your 4, 10, or 20 hours in each week. Now, of course there are weeks where we all get buried under a certain project that encounters an emergency, but then we need to communicate that and that their project is very much on our radar.
Being a good communicator is an art. It’s easy to take for granted, because we’ve been talking for most of our lives. The truth is, however, we’ve all built in bad habits over time, and these become stronger with age in the way our personality forms our style of connecting with others. It is important to take stock of the way we transmit information to people. Being a good communicator not only builds a better brand, it builds a better you!