4 Tricks to Keep a Project Client Engaged on the Project

You would like to think that all project customers are focused directly on the success of their project and are giving it 100% of their attention. And, yes, we have all had those one or two project customers that we are certain are giving the project 110% of their attention based their micro-management of everything we – and the team – are doing on the project.

And, sometimes, we end up with a customer who isn’t available…doesn’t answer email…doesn’t return the phone calls…regularly misses even the weekly project status meetings setup mainly for their benefit. Sounds like easy sailing, right? Well…not really if you run into a questionable requirements situation and you need a quick answer. What if you have a change order that needs approved so you can move forward without missing a key deadline? Below are four of my tricks – and yes I’ve tried them and they have worked well – for keeping that distracted project customer involved in the daily operations of the project.

Keep them assigned to current tasks.

One way to help ensure your project client stays engaged on the project on a regular, if not daily, basis is to keep them assigned to a few key tasks at all times and expect them to report on the progress of those tasks during the weekly project status meetings. That way they stay on top of their tasks, remain accountable (hopefully), and participate on an ongoing basis. Win-win-win.

Keep meetings regular.

Meetings are key situations where information is shared, decisions are made and assignments are handed out. The project manager wants attendance and participation to be as high as possible. Sometimes – when the project is at a slow point – there may not be much to discuss. Whatever you do – don’t cancel the meetings. You’ll start to lose participation and for the wayward client that is just the excuse they need to fill that spot with other work or another meeting in their busy schedule. Conduct at least a brief meeting no matter what – you never know what key piece of information may still get shared that could otherwise have slipped through the cracks.

Have more face to face meetings.

Increasing customer touch points may be another answer. It will work, if you can get the customer to commit to them. I’m not talking about just phone calls…I’m talking about face to face meetings. Those don’t happen that much anymore and the client isn’t likely going to want the delivery organization to include a lot of travel in the price of the project if it isn’t necessary. But if you can find the money, time and a convincing need for more face to face meetings with the customer, then it will likely get the job done. Meeting at each point of a major deliverable hand-off might be the solution. Or building in monthly or quarterly checkpoint meetings into the schedule on a longer project may solve the customer involvement / engagement issue. Consider the costs carefully on this one, but it usually does work.

Provide brief daily status updates that include questions.

More communication. Sure, they may get sick of hearing from you, but the customer can never use the excuse that they “never received any updates from the project manager” as an reason for not knowing what’s going on. Don’t just send them daily junk mail – be creative and make it worthwhile. Include a clarification question if you can so they are somewhat obliged to reply. That way you know they at least looked at it. Frequent communication that often calls for a response does work…and it is useful for both sides.

Summary / Call for Input

A hands off approach from the customer may be great – especially in those situations where the project is short and the requirements are very straightforward. On those more complex, high dollar, longer engagements, it’s not so desirable to have the project customer disappearing from meetings, emails, communication and feedback. Yes, you may want all that involvement and actually need much of that involvement…and these 4 tricks can help make that happen on those engagements where it seems to be a trouble spot.

Readers – have you experienced the disappearing customer issue? How did you resolve it – what are your tips and tricks for keeping the customer engaged?

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Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. He has authored more than 4,000 expert project management, best practices and business strategy articles, eBooks and videos. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

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