PM Clinic: Week 8 Summary
Topic: QA/Test and relationship recovery
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.
- 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)