How to Avoid the Project Management Deliverable Dance

Confession: I can’t count the number of times that I’ve said “I think this client is expecting it ,” I would be a very depressed project manager. If I were grading someone else’s report card, I would give the project manager a mediocre score.
If there was a grade for building client relationships, I would probably get very high marks. I can push back to the client in most cases. The delivery process can be complicated. As project managers, it is important to keep clients informed about project progress. However, not all activities result in tangible items that they can view. We want to be able to translate concepts and processes that they may not be familiar with. Every contractor has a slightly different process and your client might not be able to understand yours.
While you want to make it easy for them to understand and address their questions, you don’t want to make the deliverables look like a previous agency or contractor that provided services.
This year, I noticed that I was becoming more flexible in my delivery standards. Sometimes I asked my colleagues to change the presentation of their work for one client in a different way than we would for other clients. This was done in the name client service and process refinement. Sometimes, this may require multiple rounds of revisions with my colleagues. My team was losing money because I was dancing. So I decided to get back on track. Here’s how.
Details, Project Manager, not Definitions
When I am working on proposals, RFPs, or even SOWs, my focus is on flexibility and explaining the process. When I have the chance to expand, I always focus on the why and what of the activity. I close the discussion by stating what the deliverable should look like.
As part of a proposal, you can’t say “You’re going get 50 recipes”. This is a recipe for headaches. This is not possible unless you have planned what the 50 recipes will be. You might find that one key recipe is easier to digest than three smaller sub-recipes. You won’t be able to adapt a recipe to veganise it by simply substituting ingredients. You will need separate instructions for preparation.
There is no project that is truly static. It is possible for things to not flow smoothly between each other. Even though we may send it over many times, the deliverables we create are rarely final. You might end up limiting your creativity by trying to force your project to follow a set schedule and timeline too early in the process. You might end up wasting both your time and money trying to fit everything into the plan.
You should know how to do your job, but don’t let it dictate how you do it.
Get your Project Management Role and Expertise
You are responsible for the project management process. Your team members were selected based on their ability to complete the project. You and your team decide how to share your work with the client.
Sometimes, this means that you stay true to the process that you know will succeed. Sometimes, your team may want to try something different.
If the client claims they know the correct way to do something, but your team disagrees with that assertion, it is your responsibility educate and guide the client in the right direction. Sometimes, this means that we need to show models or prototypes. Sometimes, we have to go beyond what they expect. To prove that the recipe is simple enough, we might have to do a test run with a novice cook.
This means that sometimes we may need to go against our process. That’s okay. It’s when we begin to adjust our process to meet expectations that we don’t have.