How do your projects usually begin? If you’ve spent much time in a traditional project management environment, you know projects often begin from the view of the project manager, who determines what success looks like and which deliverables should be created to achieve that success. Often communication with the client is concentrated at the beginning with gathering information and at the end with reviews of the final product.
The problem with this type of project management is that client involvement tends to be an afterthought. Sure, the aim is still to create something for the client, but managing a project in this way can mean that while you’re saying “look at this cool thing I created,” the client is left confused, unhappy or feeling misunderstood.
If this happens, the client does not feel like they have received appropriate value from the project. This is where client or customer-centric project management comes in.
What Is Client-Centric Project Management?
Client-centric project management means that instead of the project manager focusing solely on the mechanics of the project, getting it to a conclusion, and traditional success measures such as timeframe and budget, it is started and continued from the view of the client.
The idea is that you must know, understand and work with the views of the customer so that the goals and deliverables of the project are valuable from the customer point of view.
As Elizabeth Harrin, co-author of Customer Centric Project Management states: “Projects must deliver value. Projects must involve stakeholders, even if that stakeholder population is made up of only one person. These two things are the premise for customer-centric project management. The third premise is that stakeholders are the ones who get to decide what ‘value’ actually means.”
In other words, you’re working with humans, not for a spreadsheet, a project plan,or a budget. The way to measure success should be determined from the view of your client.
Image source: STLPMI
More Focus On Client Communication And Feedback
The client is at the heart of any project – they’re not just a faceless “stakeholder” – they’re a customer with a problem which they need you to solve. While traditional project management might limit communication and feedback to the initial requirements and a post-delivery review, client-centric project management involves more communication points.
The idea is that you should be communicating throughout the project, ensuring the client understands what is going on while you have a clear understanding of their expectations.
Slides from STLPMI
A common complaint of clients is their consultant is uncommunicative or seems unapproachable, while consultants often complain about the client who changes their mind or makes requests for things they don’t think will work.
While your past experience with clients may make you inclined to exclude the client from your process as much as possible, this may only exacerbate problems with the client wanting to change expectations part-way through. THIS IS A FACT OF PROJECTS. If you don’t like having things changed, then you’re possibly in the wrong business.
Even if you are more collaborative throughout the project and regularly communicate, you may still get change requests from the client. You will find though, if you involve the client early and often, you are more likely to be on the same page throughout and the impact of any changes is lessened.
How Client-Centric Project Management Helps Businesses
Become More Than Just A Supplier
As a consultant or contractor, you want your customers to be happy with the work you do. Working in a silo is more likely to lead to communication issues and unhappy customers.
Client-centric project management sees your focus change from “I delivered what you asked for” to “here is how this will benefit your business.” It’s the focus on value-driven deliverables that takes you from being just another supplier to a valued partner of the client’s business.
Build Customer Engagement
If you’re communicating with your client regularly, you keep them engaged with the process and more likely to give regular, timely feedback. The customer is happier because they feel they are being kept in the loop, while you are more likely to have a better understanding of their needs and any issues that come up.
This also means that you are less likely to be caught by surprise by any change requests from the customer, plus, those changes are probably not going to be major disruptions to the project as they may be should you simply “deliver what you were asked.”
Build A Better Working Relationship
Client-centric project management helps you to create an environment that nurtures good working relationships. There are obvious benefits both for your business and for the client:
- The client feels comfortable and they can trust you.
- The client does not feel like they are kept in the dark or always chasing a non-responsive contractor.
- You and your client get to know each other better and understand how each other operates.
- You reduce possible conflict during the project because you’re checking in throughout.
- Misunderstandings can be cleared up quickly.
- You become really clear on what it is the client values and how they prefer to be communicated with.
- A positive working relationship can lead the client to hire you again or to recommend your services to others.
Communication Is The Key
We talk about how to communicate with project clients a lot. It’s such a crucial part of managing a successful freelance, consulting or agency business, yet it’s often neglected with more importance placed on “sticking to the plan” or churning out deliverables.
Client-centric project management is at the heart of why we created ClientFlow. There are so many great tools for the mechanics of project management, but how we manage project communication is often the missing link.
We feel that having a collaborative system of communication with your clients can be a key distinguishing factor for your business getting hired over others. Who are you going to hire? The contractor who goes AWOL for weeks before turning up with a finished product? Or the one who communicates regularly and clearly, keeping you in the loop?
Besides having the mechanism in place to communicate, other things you should consider to create positive communication are:
- Communicating in language the client understands.
- How to build trust and inclusiveness with colleagues and clients.
- Laying the groundwork early for a positive client experience.
- Overall client experience (CX)
If you’re just as good as the next guy in terms of technical skill, the way you communicate and the way the client perceives you deliver value might be your best differentiators.
Don’t Get Left Behind…
Client-centric project management is a growing trend in the last few years, along with other industries which are going back to putting more focus on the client experience (for example, SaaS and “customer success” metrics).
This could mean that those old methodologies will die a slow death in favor of the customer-centric approach. With more consultants, freelancers and agencies able to offer their services to a global audience, those whose clients perceive the highest value tend to win.
You don’t want to be the dinosaur who’s still keeping project communication with clients to a minimum: you just might find them drawn to your communicative competitors…
The focus of client-centric project management is on delivering value based upon the client’s own needs and perceptions of what that means, as opposed to the old focus purely on deliverables. If you can successfully implement a client-centric focus, your business stands to gain by building better client relationships, while your clients gain the security of having a trusted partner in their business.