Project management is supposedly about keeping a project on time and on budget. But if these were the only goals, everyone would hate all project managers and all project managers would be miserable.
(WARNING: This article has been written by a project manager so may be ever so slightly biased.)
Project management (in an agency) is about balancing the client’s objectives with the interests of their agency. That means juggling three elements, time, budget and the happiness/satisfaction of both the client and the agency.
“Fisherman fish, bakers bake and project managers communicate” - Doug Rose.
It is easy to see that good project management is all about communication, but by its very nature, communication is a two-way street. Therefore, in order for a project manager to be successful, they are partially dependent on everyone else involved in the project committing to communicating in a similarly efficient way.
There is a wealth of information about how to be a great Project manager but very little about what a client can do to support their project manager in the shared goal of making the project a success. As one of the project managers at Webstars, I have come up with three principles to help you get the most out of your project manager, and through them, your project.
Be clear and honest
Be as clear and specific as possible when briefing a project. If you can avoid glossing over the detail, it will save both time and budget further down the line. Let us know any concerns as soon as they arise, and where you see any potential risks lurking.
We are not working against you. If there are delays client-side let us know as soon as you can; we may be able to help. Help us to understand your internal team structure and which hoops you will be jumping through at every stage of the project. The more we know about how you operate as a company, the better we can support you and your processes.
Most problems are not insurmountable if reported soon enough. There are multiple opportunities for feedback at each stage of a project. Make sure you are always 100% satisfied at each stage before you sign anything off.
Project managers are there to protect the client from the production team, and the production team from the client. This may sound as if they would simply tear each other apart if it wasn’t for the project manager’s mediation… but sometimes, unfortunately, this isn’t too far from the truth. If something goes wrong, it is your project manager who has the best chance of helping you out or, indeed, saving your bacon.
Of course, as professionals, project managers are always going to act based on facts, figures, and according to contracts - in theory! - but we project managers are also human beings. More specifically, we are human beings trying to make sure that your project is completed on time, on budget and to your satisfaction, all whilst trying to satisfy the interest of our agency, simultaneously handling projects for other clients. To ensure your project is the best it can be, you want your project manager on your side, you want them to list you as their favourite client every time (though, ahem, of course, nobody has favourites…). To achieve this you are going to have to be nice, it sounds obvious but if you have a good relationship with your project manager you will reap the rewards.
As project managers, it is in our interest to make sure things run as smoothly as possible, but sometimes, to put it simply, something’s gotta give. By following the previous two principles you should be able to build a strong, trusting relationship with your project manager. On this basis, when push comes to shove, trust that they have your interests at heart (delicately balanced with that of the agency of course!). This doesn’t mean there is never space for negotiation, it is just helpful to remember that we are both trying to run a business and have our own agendas to satisfy, as well as the shared aim of making your project a glowing success. At the end of the day, an agency depends on its clients for survival. It is therefore in our interests to keep you happy. Just remember though that we also need to turn a profit in order to stay in business (we have to say that in order adhere to principle 1. - Be Honest!). Balancing those two factors is a central aspect of a project manager’s job.
If you stick to all three of these principles you should build a long lasting, productive and mutually beneficial relationship with your project manager and, through them, your agency. But, perhaps, more importantly, you will enjoy working with them and they with you, something that shouldn’t be underestimated considering the number of hours in the day you are like to spend working together.
This article has been all about how to get the most from your project manager as a client, however, many of the principles also apply to the production team. Watch this space for tips on how to make the most of your project manger if you are part of the production team.