The first time a given team member has to interact both internally with collaborators and externally with a client can be a complex challenge. After all, clients are often less familiar with your industry than you are, and they may come with ideas about what is feasible in a given time frame that doesn’t quite fit with reality.
Client projects have a learning curve, as everyone involved learns how to diplomatically compromise when possible while holding fast to the realities of the work and the need for a profitable end result. Completing client projects thoroughly with a dedicated project management approach, however, pays off in the form of increased profits and improved reputation.
We've put together the basics of how to see client work differently than internal work, how to move a project along as a client project manager and what kind of tools can help you do these challenging tasks more easily and effectively.
The key to defining client projects is to recognize that the outcomes or deliverables generate internal requirements — demands for team members' time and attention — as well as the external expectations that the client brings to the table.
Understanding client projects helps to define what isn't a client project. For instance, work to promote your own company is not usually a client project, as there is no external team evaluating a deliverable.
You also may have enough units in your company that some departments deliver work for other departments. Because everyone is on the same overarching team, these deliverables may have multiple stakeholders and people involved, but they aren't client projects.
Client project management encompasses the overall effort applied to beginning, completing and conclude client projects with as much efficiency and effectiveness as possible. Because the process is on display for a client, an organized system can really impress them, while also boosting the quality of the work through clear expectations and deadlines.
A client project manager tends to be focused on two forms of communication.
One is communicating priorities and reminding team members about the urgency of various steps in a timeline.
The other is spending time helping clients to understand what is possible, likely and unfeasible within their desired project objectives, while also constructing a plan of action that is both feasible and impressive to the clients to win their business.
Clients may ask, "What is client management services?" because many people don't always know what is reasonable to expect when they hire a service company. Project managers within client management services understand typical timelines, what can add to those timelines, typical budgets and what makes those budgets grow or shrink.
Project management exists to help teams reach their full potential by delivering excellent end results. This includes managing client expectations so they feel in the loop and consulted on key aspects and decisions along the way.
Top Tips for Project Management in a Client-Based Business
Example: Accelo's Activity Stream
Example: Creative trigger automations
While many industries have specialized steps in any given client project, there are four fairly universal phases of a project, with different needs at each stage.
At launch, everyone involved in the project is working to ensure that expectations are clearly understood and that the expected deliverables are actually feasible, given the time, budget and other resources available.
A project manager gathers information through discussions with the client as well as information about other workloads on the team's workers, resources that have to be sourced for this particular project, and the expected duration of a project of this nature.
The client, ideally, will provide as much information as possible to ensure a successful launch. But not every client knows what they are looking for, leaving more fact-finding for the project manager and team members to accomplish.
Overlapping slightly with initiation is the planning phase, where all parties are fairly sure they are moving forward but they still have to get clarity on the project. This is an important moment for the project manager since it is their chance to avoid misunderstandings down the road.
It's also a valuable time to create an organized system in a project management platform like Accelo, where everyone understands who will do what and on what timeline, and can access the correct information and documentation when approvals are needed.
The biggest needs during the execution phase involve keeping expected levels of communication going between the customer and the team.
This is why monitoring tends to happen alongside execution: while the team is working on the project, they are in the execution phase, but when progress is made, it's up to the project manager to check in, make sure that the client approves any intermediary deliverables and keep them informed. Client communication involves promptly re-evaluating expectations if deadlines were set at too ambitious a rate or if certain aspects of a project don't prove feasible.
The project manager makes these interactions as positive as possible by coming to the client with potential solutions, not just with problems, and with clear descriptions of how the team is responding to unforeseen circumstances. These interactions may be challenging, but they also are where your team proves their resourcefulness and often wins long-term loyalty through their dependability and skill.
At this phase, the project manager and the team are using the outcomes of the project both to delight the customer in the moment and to implicitly make the case that an ongoing relationship of some kind could be valuable.
Yes, the full payment for the project may have already arrived or may be coming soon, but that client may have other relevant needs or may know others who are looking for your type of client project work.
In either case, the quality of the finalization and debrief on how the project went are ways to showcase just how valuable a partner your company can be.
Expand your knowledge of how to approach projects for your service business with these project management podcasts.