In the post just below this post (at this link), I wrote about a project manager for a consulting company who won’t let the engineers talk to the client. He retains the sole right to communicate with the client. I have never hitherto come across so adamant a mandate of exclusive communication.
I have often managed projects; I have often been the mere engineer on the project; I have often been the specialist on the project. As project manager, I always encouraged the project staff to communicate with the client. As engineer and specialist I have always been encouraged to communicate with the client.
Let us define communication. Of course letters and memos from the consultant to the client are signed by the project manager before issue to the client. That is simply common sense.
Of course, we have always been careful to select those who attended meetings with the client. They have always been carefully vetted and trained in appropriate communication and information transfer. And of course, in any meeting with the client, the consultant’s project manager has the final say, at least one step behind the client’s project manager. That is just common-sense meeting management.
In many projects, there occur informal interactions between client staff and consultant staff. You cannot stop people talking. Of course the consultant junior who blows smoke and wafts weird in casual conversations with clients does not last long or progress far. That is simply the way the world is.
Those three instances of communication are however, but a pale shadow of the deeper communication edict that I wrote of in the preceding post. I was probably thinking when I wrote more fo the following which I dredge from the past and a consulting practice that was just beginning and is now a success. This is what they wrote and disseminated.
- All staff will be encouraged to develop and deal with their own clients in pursuit of the ideal that the consulting practice is a series of practices under a unifying and supporting umbrella;
- Every staff member will stand on his/her own legs and not need the consulting practice for job security, but want to be with a larger group for the satisfaction and effectiveness of teamwork and participation in the type of project that a larger team attracts;
- Work for fun and profit — work is not enjoyable or sustainable unless both objectives are satisfied;
- Will pursue growth where growth takes/leads. The consulting practice is not in business to grow a business, it is in business providing professional services that staff decide to offer and that fill client needs;
- Will diversify in association, discipline and location to better serve clients, diversify risks and increase the interest value to staff and gain international technology;
- Will promote technology development and training and share knowledge and technology with the broad surrounding profession;
- Will function as extensions to client offices as part of client team.
That is such a far cry from the follow I previously wrote of who said: “I have managed projects of 800 people. I never let the engineers talk to the client. That is what project managers are for–to talk to the client. I am here to take over this project and make it happen.” Or when his boss said: “Get the engineers involved only when it comes to analyzing the embankment stability.”
To further promote discussion of this issue, I repeat here parts of some of the comments from the original posting.
Comment 1: I cannot agree more. Too many “Project Managers” from engineering firms think they know it all. In most cases they know little.
Comment 2. As a Project Manager AND and an Engineer, I fully support the statement from this fellow. This is Project Management 101. There must be only ONE channel for communication between client and contractor/consultant. That channel is through the respective Project Managers. I have seen countless projects cocked-up through well-intentioned engineers and technical experts tweaking this and optimising that, to the point that the scope of work no longer fulfills the Client’s original design brief. Remember, even three-ring circuses have a Ringmaster. That Ringmaster is the Project Manager.
Comment 3. Nothing wrong with bringing in a guy to “make it happen”. We have all been involved in projects with numerous meetings, everyone attending, with the outcome of the meeting is to have another meeting. The do’ers on the team generally appreciate a manager who moves things forward; the slackers on the team don’t like this since it forces real decisions to be made rather than having more meetings.