My Client Is Blocking the Project – Now What?
The Project Has Stalled
When your client is the one blocking the progress of a project, it’s a uniquely difficult situation. As a contractor or vendor agency with no direct control over the client side, it's important to understand how to navigate the situation to protect yourself and still have a positive outcome. Getting clarity on the details and complexities of the problem will help you manage it effectively from the outside, but the key is in how you approach it. Yes, you have to get the project done, but it can’t be at the expense of the client relationship, even when the client is the issue.
Identifying Roadblocks and Taking Action
So, you’ve recognized - or suspect - that there’s a blocking issue. Recently at Solspace we had a client get slower and slower to respond to a problem that came up during a build. It was vague, but we smelled trouble and acted quickly. We ramped up the urgency, and made sure the client understood that if not managed immediately, it would cause significant problems. But the client didn’t respond with urgency or additional information. We then faced a very common issue - lack of visibility. Our team didn’t know and couldn’t see what was happening on the client side of the project. There can be many reasons for this, and it’s usually not due to bad intentions, but it can kill a project. Solving this problem is tricky - you must get information and support to resolve the issue, but you also must make sure the client knows you are genuinely committed to their success as well as yours. “Help me help you!” as Jerry Maguire said.
Evaluate the Situation & Make a Plan
Taking a step back is essential for a successful action plan. Look at the bigger picture and identify potential pitfalls or opportunities before making any decisions. Do this by considering all available data and resources, and assessing the potential risks and rewards for each option. This way you will make informed decisions that will lead to better results in the long run. Now that you have an action plan, what comes next?
Staying Proactive and Positive
Proactively managing your client means proactive communication. Lots of it. At Solspace, we prioritize knowledge transfer and collaboration. Right from the start we ensure an efficient and transparent communication system is in place and utilized for the duration of a project. We keep records of correspondence and continuously share information like meeting minutes and emerging risks. And we do our best to maintain empathy for the client even when they’re the problem. With this mindset we can stay on the client’s side while trying to resolve the blocking issue. Goodwill and trust are tools you can use to help open doors and surface embarrassing or awkward information that is necessary for successful project management. It’s about being a good human but it’s also smart strategic positioning that gets results. Now, what about that client?
Your Client Roadblock
When your client is the blocking issue, you must address it head on, as soon as you realize the problem. Be direct and clear and remember it’s not personal. Assess the underlying problem and what exactly is needed to resolve it. Some detective work may be needed. Find out who the stakeholders and partners are on the client side. Ask honest questions. Find out if there’s a bigger context for the situation. Find out everything you can about your client’s position. You may discover they don’t have the budget to complete the project. You can help by proposing alternate solutions that still benefit your client. You may discover your client is new to the job and unsure of what to do, so you can take on the role of mentor, guide or advocate. In every case you must act quickly - unresolved issues will drag on and eventually have significant impact on your project timeline and budget. Or as in the example above, result in a potentially disastrous situation on your website. And if you do all of the right things and the client is still blocking progress? It’s time to manage up.
Don't Give Up, Manage Up
Managing up is an important skill that all project managers need in their toolbox. Typically it means managing one’s own supervisor, but here we mean managing the client, and potentially their supervisor as well. It requires empathy, determination, clear focus, and top notch communication skills. Done badly, it can alienate a client. Done well, it can create an environment of mutual respect, leading to a stronger relationship, increased productivity, and success for everyone. The key is staying genuinely focused on the success of the project and the client. Using our example above, when we were unable to motivate our client to urgently address a potentially catastrophic issue, we decided to add the client’s supervisor to subsequent communications so we could provide transparency where the client had not. We maintained a constructive, friendly and informational tone, but also made it clear what the consequences of inaction were. This made sure the client’s supervisor would inquire about the issue and manage any issues our client could not. Risky? Sure. But because of how we approached it, the blocking issue was resolved and everything stayed positive.
Great Client Management Is Great Customer Service
Solspace is committed to providing the best possible customer service and support when it comes to investigating and troubleshooting issues with projects. Our team of experts has extensive experience with complex issues, which allows us to identify them as they emerge and to provide fast and effective resolution before they cause real problems. We take pride in our commitment to our customers, making sure their projects are completed on time and within budget. Managing our clients when they become the blocking issue and the risk to project success is part of this commitment. Sometimes we have to get creative to make it happen, but it is always with the goal of building and keeping trust, maintaining positive working relationships, and delivering on our promises of project success.