dear clients: things to know about running a project

Advice for clients: what I’ve learned from bad project managers.

When working with professionals, projects generally run pretty predictably if not always smoothly. Sometimes, though, we run across a “professional” who is just stunningly bad at running a project. 2008 was the year of Incredibly Bad Client Project Management in my universe. Here are some things I learned:

• The best way to stall a project indefinitely is to try to micro-manage every aspect, from proposal through planning and production. Let the creative people do their thing. The best client maintains a low profile, while keeping lines of communication open.
• Marketing consultants serve no purpose. Don’t hire one. I’m sure there are some good ones out there, but the ones I have worked with in the past year have blown a lot of hot air to convince their client that they are worth the price tag.
• If you ARE a marketing consultant you are not a project manager nor are you an art director nor are you a writer. Just a reminder.
• Being passive aggressive with your vendor will never change anything, including how long the work will take. It will mostly just annoy everyone.
• If you are the “client” then you need to stand up to your superiors when they demand un-planned and unnecessary changes. It is your job to prevent scope-creep.
• Just because websites are “easy” to change, this does not mean that you should request small changes constantly. Consolidate feedback so the developer can make changes efficiently. After two rounds of revisions there should be no reason for any more feedback.
• Provide designers and developers realistic deadlines that you will support by giving timely feedback and adhering to your scope of work. “As soon as possible” is not a deadline.
• If you don’t understand the technology, you should not be managing a web project. Or if you must, defer to the developer on all decisions. Trying to make interactive behave like print is not going to work out.
• Having meetings that drag on for hours is extremely inefficient and keeps work from getting done. Use meetings sparingly.
• Communicate clearly, please. Implement some sort of logical grammar in your sentences and don’t refer to adults as “U”.
• Keep the whole team in the loop. Picking just one person to call or email will lead to loose ends. There should be no secret meetings, and if there are they should be recapped for the team.
• Don’t argue. There is no reason that disagreements in a creative project cannot be solved quickly and rationally. If your opinion is unpopular perhaps you should let it drop in the interest of actually getting the project done.
• Don’t try to please everyone. Keep the list of decision-makers as short as possible and try to avoid feedback from others.
• Be transparent. Let everyone involved in the project see progress regularly rather than waiting for major milestones to show work. This minimizes surprises.

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