Last month, this column focused on a few key internal barriers that project managers and designers cited when asked, "What's standing in the way of doing the best job with each other?" Things aren't going to turn out well for anyone when the firm becomes its own worst enemy. It's already a tough world out there; why do we make it even more difficult for ourselves?
In those same company surveys, we continue to ask, "What's standing in the way of doing the best job possible for our clients?" After all, that is the entity we are in business to serve. And don't they rely on us for the best job possible?
Firm leaders too often are surprised to read the responses the survey produces; maybe they have removed themselves too far from the actual production and execution of what their firm sells. When they do comb through the results and put aside the denial or excuses, it typically becomes a mission to change things for the better.
Are some of the following barriers keeping your firm from doing the best it possibly can?
- QA/QC – "Seems our new policy is to limit quality/time needed to perform projects. Budgets are important to be profitable but it also hinders a quality project. I feel the clients will suffer. Aren't there other areas in the company to trim expenses to help make money?" I often hear this plight of diligent, responsible designers. Ironically, the message on the website proclaims the very opposite, and the language in the proposal talks strongly of a defined QA/QC process. Imagine the horror if a client ever read a statement like that about their architect, engineer, or environmental consultant. You're never going to improve the bottom line by shorting this step.
- Communication – "We have project managers who are terrible at communication but for some reason they are still managing projects." These project managers likely have some technical expertise needed on the project, or have several years of design experience that warranted them this role. However, 90 percent of the project manager's time is spent communicating, so if clear, timely, filtered communication is a skill lacking from a project manager, the team, the project, and the client are all going to suffer for it. If you don't believe me, ask your designers about the communication channels they work with and the quality of it. Hopefully they won't be saying things like, "Some project managers —forget' to inform us of changes in design or deadlines. This just makes us angry and rushed. This concerns me that it happens too often."
- The under/over problem – "There is a disconnect on what we can do and how long it takes us to do it. We make promises to clients with unrealistic timeframes and we take all the pressure for it." Underestimating, over-promising, and under-delivering are all consequences of poor project management and bad internal information. This creates a very stressful environment. No one wants to work like that – so why do it? Chances are, old budgets based on hours that were really under reported feed into current budgets. Clients don't always know how long things take – but apparently neither do managers in this industry. It all eventually reaches a breaking point.
We make lots of promises of what we can do for the client – but we will quickly fall short of delivering it with these sorts of things going on. Again, ask what's standing in the way of doing the best job possible for your clients. See what you get in reply.
Christine Brack, PMP, is a principal with ZweigWhite specializing in business planning and project management best practices. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.