The following post is an excerpt from our "Guide to Project Planning." Download it now for more info on how to build a great project plan.
When you’re working on a project with a client or even a product owner, it’s critical to be 100% sure they understand all of the details your team has discussed. Remember, your clients may not be familiar with your process or deliverables so this is your chance to enlighten them. Before diving into the nitty gritty of your project plan, present your client a timeline in word to explain your team’s process at a high-level to lead up to the details within your project plan. You may want to send the document to them in advance, but be sure to set up a call or an in-person meeting to review the plans in detail. Chances are, they will be confused by what they’re looking at, so you’ll want to take the opportunity to review it line by-line. This may sound painful, but it’s an important step in ensuring that you’re in agreement not only on timing, but how you’ll deliver the final product. Use the initial review of your plan as your chance to explain:
Explain your process
Explain your overall process and how you, as a team, arrived at the approach. Feel free to explain how it has worked on previous projects, or how you’re trying something new. No matter what, stand behind the approach and be confident about its potential for success.
Review the deliverables
Review the deliverables and all of the details that will help you, as a team, produce your project on time. It’s important to explain what work must be done to complete a deliverable, and why it will take the time you have allotted. If you explain these details now, your clients will not push for unrealistic deadlines. And if your plan shows tasks, your client will understand just how much work is being done.
While reviewing your plan, your client may have questions about what a deliverable is, and what it does. This is great, because it means they are engaged in the process and look forward to seeing what the team will deliver. If you can, share some similar documents or deliverables from other projects and explain that they are intended to do (and not do), and how they relate to other project deliverables and decisions. The more you can educate your clients early on, the easier time your team will have at winning them over when presenting your work. After all, a client who is invested in and truly understands your work is not just a client—they are a partner.
At the same, you should set expectations for your deliverable review processes. In your plan, you’ve probably made some estimates based on the amount of time your clients will need to review your work as a team and provide feedback. If you’ve had conversations with your clients early in the process, you know how much time they need. This is your chance to point back to that conversation and tell them the timing is based on that discussion, but if that is no longer the case, this is the time to make adjustments. At this point, you want to be as realistic as possible about how the project will go. There’s nothing worse than changing the review process—or the people involved—mid-stream on a project. Explain this to your clients and they will think twice about timing and what is realistic for them. And, when they see the time they need in relation to the time you’re taking, as well as the deadline, they will most likely be motivated to work hard to meet their datesand contribute to completing large project milestones on time.
Don’t forget to point out dependencies. If your client misses their deadline, what will that do to the project? Where can you be flexible, and what makes you nervous? Put it all on the table now and document it in meeting notes so that everyone is aware of the potential issues you’re spotting early on.
People and Other Project Work
It’s never just about the work—it’s about the people who are doing the work. Be sure to communicate the fact that the team has reviewed the plan and mention some of the items you discussed as a team and how you arrived at some decisions. There’s a lot of value in showing your clients the human side of your process and your team, because it’s often easy for them to think of you as a “shop” who just gets the work done. They don’t know all of the details, and maybe they don’t want to. But if you share some details about who’s doing what, and any other key things they’re working on, it’ll help them to relate to it a bit more.
It can be tricky talking to clients about other work you’re doing, but it shouldn’t be. The fact is, you’re a business and you have other clients and projects. Show your clients the fact that you take great care to schedule your time and projects in a way that works for you and for them. If you’re really good at this, you’ll have scheduled your project around others and there will be a little bit of a cushion in your timing to make future shifts. Even if that isn’t the case, it would not be a terrible idea to set the expectation that a one-day delay on your client’s side may not equate to a one-day delay on your side. Simply letting your clients know that their plan is crafted around others and a carefully crafted resourcing plan will help them to understand the importance of sticking to the dates and process you’ve outlined.
You’ve put a heck of a lot of work into creating this plan, so talking through the details to make sure that everyone is comfortable with it should be pretty important to you. If this means giving your client and team some extra time to think things through on their own, so be it. Of course, you never want this process to take so much time that it delays any of the project work. You can create the plan while work is under way—but don’t let it go unconfirmed for too long. You want to be sure that you have an agreement, because the details in your plan will dictate so much, including your immediate next steps.
Manage and Update
Just because you’ve confirmed your plan it does not mean that you’re done with it! In fact, you’ll find that your plan is a living and breathing document. At a minimum, you should update the “Percent Complete” column on your project on a daily or weekly basis. It’s gratifying to see that number go up!
Plus, the chances that you’ll have to make adjustments here or there is pretty significant. It’s not common for every project to stick to its plan 100%. Life happens, ideas change process, deadlines are missed, and plans change. That may mean that your deadline has to shift, or maybe your process will no longer work for the project. As long as you are flexible and can adapt to the revolving door of changes, so can your project plan.
It’s really easy to be frustrated by a change in plans. Don’t let it get to you— remember that you’ve got a team who has already committed to coming up with a plan that works and a client who you’ve educated on your process and deliverables. You’ve done a lot of work to get these people on board with the plan, and they’re now invested enough in the plan and the project, so they’ll be willing to help make adjustments or think through new ways of working if needed.
Be sure to provide updates to your team and your clients as plans change— or stay on track. Keep your plan in an accessible place, but communicate how things are going based on the plan. You’ll always end up on top if you’ve communicated or resolved an issue early on, or even paid a compliment on a job well done.