March 13, 2005

PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Clients Behaving Badly

Devil.gifWhether developing courses in-house or out, all of us have clients to satisfy - managers, deans, SMEs, faculty, learners, etc. - and a lot of time and energy in project management is spent on coming up with paradigms for avoiding problems and increasing client satisfaction ... as well as smoothing the inevitable bumps that occur when a client makes seemingly irrational demands or otherwise appears to be somewhat less than cooperative.

Of course, these paradigms can be very useful. And in many cases, following advice like "treat in-house clients like customers," "manage your client expectations," "clearly specify deliverables," and "focus on process, not personality" is essential in ensuring that you meet your targets for time, budget, scope, and course quality with a maximum of client satisfaction and a minimum of bloodshed.

But all of these paradigms and most of this advice have one thing in common: they assume that your client is, at bottom, a reasonable person with a vested interest in getting the work done.

Unfortunately, this isn't always the case.

Don't get me wrong, the vast majority of clients are rational and cooperative when the project manager does a good job of communicating expectations and status and of specifying deliverables, requirements, and conditions. A few are even a dream to work with. And there are plenty of occasions when, if you diagnose the reason behind a client's seemingly bad behavior, you find that the problem boils down to mistakes on your side - the most common being faulty communication on the part of the project manager or others on the course development team.

But there are also clients who are nearly impossible to work with.

There are staff who, annoyed that management has decided to outsource an important project, will do anything they can to undermine and subvert a vendor's work. Something similar can happen to in-house staff where internal politics or