In the last part I shared the first essential of Project Management i.e “Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders”. If you haven’t read the first part, you can read it here. Here’s the second part of my series “Essentials of Project Management” which has the second and the third essential to be a successful Project Manager.

2. Learn to say ‘No’ to the Client (But First Earn the Right To Do So)

Let’s face it: the customer is not always right. This may be difficult to accept when you have been bombarded with the opposite ad nauseam. But it is crucial to recognize when the client is not right. The client may be assuming that you will take care of tasks that need to be completed by users or other client personnel, or there may be tasks that are overlooked in the planning. At the same time, you are expected to tell them when they are wrong. That’s what you are being paid for! (You can see why I stressed joint ownership earlier). Indeed, as a consultant, you do have the responsibility to steer the client away from errors.

But how do you say ‘no’ to the client? You must first earn the right to say ‘No’. Let the client see that you are standing in the trenches by his side and are totally committed to the success of the project. This earns his respect and paves the way for him to accept your ‘No’. Clients may have unduly high expectations (usually from tall promises made by the sales rep!) or may add a few tasks that expand the scope of the project. You should recognize such additions and ward against them. While it is important to avoid taking on additional tasks that are not budgeted for, you have to be diplomatic in saying ‘No’. And sometimes these extra tasks are required to complete the project. Use Change Control to manage the scope of the project in these situations.

In one sense, everything is possible provided you are given appropriate resources and have sufficient time. It is a matter of revising the scope, cost, and schedule through Change Control. Change Control is a critical element of project management. Do not hesitate to use it.

3. Manage Expectations Before Managing Specifications

It is hard enough to manage the scope, resources, cost, and quality when you are managing a project. You also have to pay attention to the expectations of the client constantly. If they are expecting 125% (maybe this is impossible, but let’s say that’s what they expect, maybe based on the sales pitch), then you have to first create the right expectations. This may be hard in the beginning. You start with small, achievable objectives and demonstrate that you deliver what you promise. Promise 95% and deliver 105%; you will earn the respect of the client. On the other hand, if you promise 125%, but deliver 115% (still very credible, you’d think), you will have fallen short of the expectations. The point is, you need to measure up to the client’s expectations. Hence, you must ensure that they are reasonable.

If expectations are too high, break down the objectives and show steady progress. At the same time, analyze what is required to meet the objectives and point out the tasks that need to be done by all participants – your team, the client’s IS team and the Users. You will be able to highlight unrealistic targets this way and negotiate a set of achievable targets.

You have to do this reality check early enough. Otherwise, the client may be too set in their expectations or may have committed to other initiatives based on this project. Your attempts to reduce expectations will then be seen as mere ‘excuses’.

You can read the next part of this 3-Part blog here.