Friday, February 8, 2008

Project Void

OK, here's the scenario: You're in the middle of a project with a client and you've hit some snags, maybe you've been swamped with other clients, you're behind, there are too many unknowns and when trying to determine your timeline for delivery, you just don't know. An hour goes by, a half a day, two days... a week..... a void is appearing.

This can be an awkward, tough point in project management. You want to be able to communicate to the client some tangible deliverables, the plan.... anything... but your team is struggling, stressed, they're trying to get their arms around the details, it's spinning..... you're struggling for answers, a shred of anything to give to the client. Ever been there?

Here are some responses I've seen in different people on the team:
  • Hide. Just keep your head down and hopefully we can figure it out before the client either knows about it or says anything. Avoid and act like the void is not there.

  • Pass the Buck. Just be glad it's not my responsibility to talk to the client. Someone else has to deal with the void, not me.

  • Hope. Maybe we'll get lucky, wake up, and realize it was just a bad dream and the void is gone.

The problem is, the void will get filled.... somehow. We can fill it, or worse... the client ends up filling it. When voids appear and communication is paralyzed, it's not uncommon for the client to dictate the timeline and expectation because they're not hearing it from you. "I need this done by a week from Friday", "We need to launch by the end of the month".... then the team scrambles, sometimes frantic, trying to work into the timeline the client had to set. Sound familiar?

The reality of "project void" is pretty normal. It's a time to take a deep breath and press in...

  • It's better to get the opportunity to set expectation of a timeline on your terms rather than have a ticked off client telling you what is going to happen

  • Have the direct, tough conversation with your client- communicate more the more urgent the issue

  • Only promise what you can promise, then deliver.... it's better to update as you know regularly than to guess and miss another deadline-

Excuses and mediocrity is the norm. Not wanting to be the person to have to deal with the client is normal. Add value to yourself, your company/team, and your clients and fill your "project voids".

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