PM Clinic: Week 8 Summary

Topic: QA/Test and relationship recovery

Compiled: 11/22/2004

The Situation:

Dear PM Gods and Goddesses:

We've hit some bumps in the QA phase of the project and my relationship with my client has become strained. My manager and I have determined that one reason is that I didn't do enough relationship building at the beginning of the project. So, my question is two-fold ... First, what are some suggestions on how to build a great client relationship up-front. Second, now that I'm in the situation of a strained client relationship mid-project, what are some suggestions for turning it around?

- Can't We All Just Get Along

Avoiding work relationship issues

  • Clearly defined projects make it easier to build good relationships. If scope, resource, timing and cost are clear, then it's easier for people to sort out their roles, and how they will interact with each other.
  • This should include flagging potential problem areas early, and clarifying up front what kinds of disagreements may occur. Then everyone can at minimum acknowledge that things may get difficult, and at maximum come up with good thinking on how to make those problems or disagreements.
  • Clear status that flags issues early and gives everyone a chance to deal with them early, goes a long way towards avoiding serious problems. In a healthy relationship, the status giver does more than provide a list - they call out things they suspect will be of most concern to the customer, or the other person, and make sure that person is explicitly aware of it. (As opposed to sending long lists of status in email, and assuming the other person actually read the thing).
  • Get the client or other person to agree on what format is best for reporting status. The plain vanilla version is: 1) what's going well, 2) what's not going well, 3) what are we doing to move stuff in #2 into #1.
  • Understand the other person's role in their organization. The better you're picture of how they fit into their world, the easier it will be for you to identify how they'll interpret what you tell them, and what's most significant (or insignificant) to them.
  • If the relationship starts ok, but you're worried about it, keep high intervals of check-ins. Drop by the tester's office every other day to say hi and ask how things are going. Or use email, or the phone to check in if they're not in your building. Higher intervals of interaction decrease the risk of big problems surfacing - you'll hit them early on.

Solving work relationship issues after they occur:

  • Someone has to be the mature person, and give a framework to the discussion. This could be you, them, or a mutually agreed person (say, the nearest person in the hierarchy that's superior to all parties). This person has to lay out on the table all of the issues, all of the goals, and set up some new ground rules for how to manage them. This can be also be done preemptively (role definition).
  • Don't spend too much time vetting the past. It can be useful to retread things to figure out what the problem is, or was, but you can't fix the past. All you can do is make changes in the present to effect the future (Sounds like a fortune cookie, I know). Be generous. Be apologetic. Be the better person. Care more about resolving the problem and moving on then about assigning or deflecting blame.
  • Talk to other people that have worked with this client or person. Get their input on what's been effective and what hasn't.


MSF - Microsoft solutions Framework: This is a methodology provided by Microsoft for the software development process. What's interesting is that it's origins are not clearly rooted in product development teams, as many of them don't use it or have never heard of it, though it is used by Microsoft consulting and some other companies. Anyway, there are some useful ideas and references. Worth poking around.


Timothy Watson, Eric Voetberg, Casey McKinnon, Scott Berkun (editor dude)



All content copyright 2005. Scott Berkun. RSS Feed