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Making the most of a bad situation

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Ever had one of those projects where it becomes fairly obvious that you are the wrong side of the coin with the customer and it isn't likely going to improve?

You will get a few things right down the line as the project unfolds and heads toward implementation. But you and your team have encountered many issues... handled some well, some not so well and some were impossible to overcome. You've unintentionally and likely beyond your control let your customer down or frustrated them several times (and we all know that more than once or twice on any engagement is going to leave a bad taste in their mouth). I frustrated one of my customers just by over communicating – it was a cultural difference thing across countries that I was unaware of and I lost them as clients for close to a year. They are back on board now and happy, but it took some work.

Not all project engagements go as planned – actually they almost never do. But some are worse than others. Some are next to unsave-able. So you try to make the most of it. Learn lessons, figure out how to do it considerably different and better next time and keep moving forward. It WILL be over soon. What you – or any good, experienced project manager – tries to do is make the most of a bad situation. What does that mean here? Well, you can practice some things that you might now do on a more ‘normal’ engagement. You can step outside the box and try to save the unsave-able project. You can experiment with some new concepts you have been wanting to try and see how they work. Let's consider a few of these and see where it takes us...and please be considering your own challenges and thoughts as you read through this and be ready to share your own ideas or experiences.

Try lessons learned earlier in the project

A good lessons learned at the end of the engagement can really be helpful. customer is hard to rein back in as they have the solution in hand finally and the sponsor is back to his day job. Sadly, less than half of projects surveyed end up having any kind of lessons learned session. Lots of missed opportunities to learn what worked and what didn't and take it to the next projects on your list. Here's a thought...conduct one or more lessons learned sessions earlier in the project. Everyone is still engaged, you could schedule them to coincide with a deliverable rollout when there is an obvious break in the project action anyway, and you can learn things now that will help you on this project, not just the next project. The bad stuff like a project we are talking about here might be hard to listen to, but if it can improve project performance and the customer relationship now it might mean the difference between success and failure on the project and a repeat customer. Win -win. Seriously...try it.

More communication, not less

Forget my example above - most customers want to hear everything that is going on with their project. Start sending out a quick status update email to all stakeholders – internal and external – on the project. Make it the same – and meaningful – for everyone. The goal is to communicate daily and have everyone on the same page every day throughout the engagement.

Try minimising the project manager’s role

Believe it or not, not all customers like the project manager role and feel it is a high and unnecessary expense that they are paying for. And if budget is at all a concern, you can go long distances with the customer in winning them back if you start charging fewer hours to the project and focusing on the tech teams work in terms of higher hour charge numbers. They often see more value in that even though we all know how important the project manager role really is on the project.

Involve your senior management

This isn't a situation where you are calling in the CEO to help save the project. No. What your goal here is to elevate the apparent importance of the project and the customer by bringing a C-level to the next one or few weekly project status meetings. More as a symbol that the company cares about the project and customer. And have them talk – even address issues you've briefed them on in meetings prior to them making status meeting appearances.

Give something away

The fastest easy back into a customer's heart is through their wallet. I'm not saying it's the best way, but it is probably the fastest. Have they spoken of an add-on they wish they had included in the original requirements - the original project? If you can, do it for free. If you can't think of anything, then turn around and give them a 10 per cent kickback on the whole project, if you can swing it. Watch their mood change quickly.

Summary – call for input

Not all projects can be saved – and not everything that goes wrong is within your control. But there are a few things you can try to do to help make things not turn out as bad as they are heading for. And you can possibly even still turn things around with the customer.

Readers – what are your thoughts on this list – what have you tried and did it work?



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