Walking a fine a line

ayn-rand-quoteI write a fair amount about communication being critical in effective project management, but it is equally (if not more) important to be credible and confident. Being credible and confident allows you to more easily deliver hard news while still retaining the trust from the project stakeholders.

Given my track record of execution, I will often be brought into projects to implement a software solution but then hand off to a long-term customer relationship manager (or whatever you choose to call that role). Often times these long-term customer managers are not as technical as I am. As a result, it is much more difficult to be credible and confident in communication. I’ve been in numerous conversations where the less technical customer manager delivers information to the customer and it is not received well. Some of this occurs because the customer starts asking questions and the customer manager doesn’t have the knowledge, skill or confidence to answer. When I step in and deliver the same message or information, the customer reaction is much more amenable. This occurs because the customer trusts what I say (credibility) and believes that I have the knowledge and expertise to know what I’m talking about (confidence).

Credibility and confidence become even more important if you are pushing back on the customer. Without the effective delivery that credibility and confidence allows you, push back or hard news can be very difficult for a customer to absorb. The end result tends to be a battle of wills that takes you further from a resolution.

An example of this might be when the customer is reporting a series of issues, and voices concern about the overall adoption and effectiveness of the implementation. In reviewing the issues, you find that several of them are training issues that had been covered during the formal training sessions, but seemed to have been forgotten now.

  • One method of communication might be to address each issue separately, answering the symptoms but not the broader issues.
  • Another method is to clearly state that the issue is a training issue and users need to be reminded of x, y and z.

I do lean towards a very direct form of communication, that isn’t everyone’s preference, but it does lead to customers who truly trust me and believe that I’m working on their behalf. In the scenario above, I am more likely to tell the client that we need some refresher trainings since some of the critical basics seem to have been forgotten. Ultimately though I have built the relationship so that this is taken for what it is…a direct approach to delivering based on all my experience. If I fail to establish this relationship and still choose the very direct communication method, I risk alienating the customer.

Communication and relationships are complicated in managing projects. I find that project managers need to walk fine line between being direct and navigating the personalities, needs, and desired outcomes of the project. Establishing the credibility and confidence for whatever system or software your delivering will make your customer interactions easier and will smooth away some of the inherent caution associated with new projects, vendors, systems, etc.