Project Management

Handle with Care

Sandra Roth

A large, critical-path project milestone is due at the end of the week. If everything stays on course, you will just barely deliver on time. And then your client calls "just to touch base." An hour later, you finally manage to get off the phone--having been invited by your client to attend a half-day brainstorming meeting tomorrow. Your concentration is shot. It will be nearly impossible to complete your deliverable on time if you give up half a day to attend the meeting. Your co-workers wonder why you are pacing the floor, tearing out clumps of hair as you go.

Sound familiar? Clients can be time-consuming and frustrating. Without clients, however, there are no projects--so it's crucial that you know how to work well with them. The faster you can build a trusting partnership with your client, the less she will find it necessary to try to micro-manage you, your team, or your project.

Here are some "client care and feeding" tips that can take some of the stress out of the process.

Explain the trade-offs.
Whether it's a last-minute meeting invitation or a change request, be accommodating when you can. However, if it will compromise the project timeline or quality, be sure your client is aware of that. Admittedly, this takes some finesse, since you don't want your client to think that you're not a team player. Done correctly, though, it will actually increase your credibility …

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