2nd in the series: Reigniting the Project Flame.
We’ve all been there. In the zone, interfacing and engaged with our stakeholders. Our projects, meetings, deliverables and deadlines are tracking to complete as scheduled, and requests are handled with a sense of confidence rather than urgency. Life is good.
But then one day, out of the blue, emails fall on deaf ears, you stop receiving timely replies, status calls seem to be swallowed up into a big black hole, and you have no idea what happened. Your once very engaged stakeholder is nowhere to be found. Was it something you said? Has Elvis left the building?
In order to avoid the age old dance of “was it me” and second guess yourself and your team, we have a strategic plan in place for what to do when the project flame begins to burn out, BEFORE it ceases to exist. We have developed a methodology at Numeric where we act quickly and strategically, reaching out with effective – but not fatiguing – communications and tactics to reengage our client. Here is how it works:
Your first line of defense
We believe in friendly and genuine communications. We email our stakeholder to touch base and ask if there is anything we can help with. We make this a personal note, removing all team members from the thread. We want to demonstrate sincere concern for what they might be (or not be) dealing with and not make any assumptions.
Next, pick up the phone!
In this age of digital communications, it is refreshing to get a call with a friendly voice on the other end, and/or a message with concern to your project and success. If the ball is in the clients court, we ask if they have questions on where we are on the project or if they simply are too busy to get back to us. If too busy, we ask what we can do to ease their workload – we try to discern the facts and offer ourselves as an extended member of their team.
We have often found that the numerous attempts at re-engaging the client eventually creates a buzzing in their ear. During any one of these steps, the stakeholder may come roaring back to life with an explanation and new timeline. Making our presence known indicates that we are ready to ensure a successful re-engagement. Various factors can be to blame for derailing the project including a stakeholder leaving, a new stakeholder taking over and getting up to speed, an internal reorganization, or reevaluating and taking things in a different direction. No matter what the reason, we are better equipped to help once we have heard from our contact. We can now rework a timeline and create a rough road map for what the next steps are.
If we endure weeks of periodic check ins and are met with radio silence, we have two actions to take; 1 – draft a potential ‘break up’ note, and 2 – discuss at risk deliverables and budget with management.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
Agile project management with consultancy business models requires weekly review and resource management. When a stakeholder goes dark it impacts the entire business. It’s our job to inform our stakeholder of how their lack of response is impacting our business, all the while hopefully ‘lighting a fire’ under their chairs to get things moving along again. We do this via email, for documentation purposes, with direct callouts and feedback deadlines. We will also include a ‘we must release resources’ message in the event that the client remains dark. Planning is critical, so the question is not only to determine how the delay is impacting our projects, but also how that delay will now impact the client’s project based on the availability of their existing, sourced team.
Huddle up for a PRE-Mortem
We all know how beneficial a post-mortem call can be, but we’re big believers in a pre-mortem. This call includes our internal team, along with applicable members of management to discuss a plan of attack from more than just a PM perspective. At Numeric, we encourage an environment of interdependent team members, meaning no one can do their job without the support and expertise of their team mates. Be proactive. Not reactive.
The silent treatment is as loud as it is quiet
In this case, the age-old phrase “no news is good news” does NOT apply. Falling off our stakeholder’s radar is impacting our team as well as our ability to drive the work forward. Juggling is part of the business – and a big part of agile project management – however if a client has gone dark, we need to first be sympathetic to their needs to hopefully identify an opportunity, then become more assertive in regards to OUR needs by setting boundaries the client can understand. We keep it simple and straightforward, letting clients know that the sound of silence could jeopardize the project timeline and overall, their success.
More often than not, we hear back from clients letting us know whether they want to go forward or not and with an explanation for going dark. When we do hear from them and they confirm that they want to put the project on hold, we communicate clearly what that means and strive to keep the lines of communication open.
For those clients who have not responded, it is clear that we’re spinning our wheels and it is time to place the account on hold and pack up our resources to work on other, more active engagements. We write our clients a friendly email notifying them of the official hold time, impacts to their account and an estimated response/re-engagement ETA when they decide to re-engage (because they most certainly will, at most certainly the busiest time).
A hold client is treated as such – they’re still around, still important, they just simply get less of our attention and precious time. To keep our Hold clients as engaged as possible, we follow these three simple steps:
- Follow up once/month, every month, based off the project Hold confirm date
- Document all communications within your project notes
- If no response after 3 months, we pass responsibility for client communication to account management or sales thus allowing the PM, to focus on active work/projects
By having a strategic plan in place, we are able to set protective boundaries, for both our team and our client and not waste unnecessary time. We believe this process and the clear communication that it prescribes is best for managing our business and ensuring the highest level of client success and satisfaction.
For further reading or to refresh yourself on the first post in this series check out these resources:
How to Redirect the Wayward Client – 1st in Re-Ignite the Project Flame Series
Office of Project Management (PMO) – All blog articles on the topic of Project Management