Our Project Managers have always played an absolutely critical role for our companies. They often engage the projects with the most moving parts, longest exposure to the client relationship and often more vested parties. However as our teams grow, adapt and deploy more and more technology, ultimately the role of our Project Managers becomes even more impactful.
As challenging as the role is, it’s common for many of us to slip into a state of firefighting and develop a perspective that as long as we are running and gunning at full speed, then we are winning. We mistakenly believe that as long as we are solving problems as they pop up, then we are creating an experience worth writing about. The truth is, most of us are creating an experience that is ok at best and most often full of friction.
I came up in the ranks as a Project Manager and I have a special place in my heart for those that shoulder the weight of the role. Like many of you, I too fell into the trap of the above perspective. I was spending tons of energy pushing projects through the production process only to find out that my client was mildly appreciative instead of blown away and leaving us a raving review.
Over the years as I moved up the ranks and started filling roles with a higher and higher elevated view of our processes and systems, I began seeing where I had dropped the ball as a Project Manager. The nuts and bolts are vital and non-negotiable. If we are getting paid to do a job then we have to meet the professional baseline standards. The baseline standard is getting the work done.
I had been so focused on getting “work done” that I totally missed the fact that I had been hired to PROACTIVELY LEAD the relationships associated with my projects.
The real role of a Project Manager is to steward relationships. We lead sub-contractors, clients, vendors and our company’s supporting staff. We lead by removing friction points and strategically ensuring we are heading off issues before they hit. Fighting fires and running over obstacles as they poke their head up is not stewarding. That PROACTIVE word is key, and completely reshapes the experiences we create.
Stewarding Our Clients
In order to properly steward the client relationship we have to remember that our job is to protect our customer throughout the process. It’s absolutely vital that we start by establishing a clear understanding of our client’s previous experience, areas of particular concern and existing perspectives on how the process will unfold. By getting to the truth we can be better equipped to manage client perceptions and deliver an experience that’s worth writing about.
Proactive communication is critical at driving the process and leading our client through the project. Identify what communication platform is best for your client and be sure to follow up all phone calls and in person discussions with a short summary in writing. It doesn’t matter if your client prefers texts or email as either will do; we just want to be sure we have timed/dated communication we can refer to as the project moves forward. Establish a standard meeting and communication rhythm that will allow you to keep the client well informed and prevent too large of air gaps to exist between the client’s perception and reality.
Proactive quality control is another essential element here. It’s very important that we are getting onsite after all key trades are completed so that we can put our professional eyes on the work. It’s our job to protect our client from poor quality work and ensure we are catching issues as they pop up.
There is a critical difference, from the client’s perspective, between us providing excuses or “reasons” for quality issues after they reach out to us vs us proactively informing them following our inspections. When we inform our clients of our findings and our plan to address the issue, it builds trust and loyalty with our client and affirms that we have their best interests in mind.
Proactive selections and homework assignments also play a huge role in the customer experience we create. How we engage our clients in the process impacts timelines and budgets at a foundational level. By directing our clients on what selections need to be made, what vendors can be sourced and the associated budgets we can keep the client engaged and the project moving forward.
Keep in mind that making choices can be overwhelming, especially when most of our clients were not planning to have their homes or businesses torn up.
Limit choices when providing options, three or four options are often best. Establish due dates for selections to be made and be sure to discuss the impacts of making selections for items not in stock. Follow up and provide insights as part of your standard communication and onsite meeting schedule.
Stewarding Our Subs, Staff and Vendors
Our subs, vendors and internal staff all make up the tool kit that we as Project Managers deploy and the way we deploy those resources matters. It’s not as simple as having the right folks at the right place at the right time. Like with our clients, it’s extremely important we establish clarity and understanding around the project in front of us and ensure we are proactively leading the process.
Proactive expectation setting and project preparation is essential as we lead crews. Regardless if they are subs, vendors or internal staff we have to ensure our jobs are ready as the team arrives. The more lead time and clarity around expectations we provide, the better result our teams can produce.
If you have a habit of calling subs and vendors last minute asking for a miracle and throwing budget constraints on top of it, you’re burning bridges and compromising results. Like with our clients, if working with us creates lot’s of friction and a path full of resistance then we lose trust and loyalty. We create a revolving door that negatively impacts margins, timelines and capacity.
Our subs and vendors are our partners. We need them and they play a heavy role in what our clients experience. We can’t leave the experience they provide up to chance. As we steward these relationships it’s critical we lead by defining the outcome we are shooting for. We communicate downline what we learned about our clients, their needs, concerns and perceptions.
As the quarterback, we connect our processes, perspectives and behaviors to ensure each and every play gains yards and protects our client in the process.
Project Managers are heroes in my book and as we begin to shift our mindset from “getting work done” to proactive relational stewardship we create magic. By remaining in a proactive state, we remove friction from the process and provide experiences that will motivate our clients, subs and vendors to shout our brand from mountain tops. Oh and we end up having a lot more fun in the process!
During our latest episode of the Head Heart & Boots podcast, Chris and I discuss this topic at length and add some additional color around how we execute at this level on a consistent basis. Fire it up and share it with your PM staff. Let’s remember this is a team sport and the more we all learn together the better experiences our clients get.