One of the offerings of my consulting practice is to assist project management professionals in understanding where they are lacking in developing and maintaining client relationships. In a nutshell, it most often comes down to poor communication skills. Recently, however, I determined that I should expand my offering to include systems analysts and project team leads. Bad relational habits learned early in one’s career are often carried over through career progression to Project Manager. Good relational skills NOT learned early in one’s career are more difficult to instill in a seasoned Project Manager.
Take for example a recent experience I had when I sat in on a Joint Application Design (JAD) session on a large systems development project. The young analyst leading the session was clearly intelligent, fairly well spoken, and likable. On first impression, this analyst appeared to be a good communicator, but after about 10 minutes I realized that he was not communicating at all.
Some background is needed here. The young analyst represented a firm that was tasked with transferring a large system in the public domain from one jurisdiction to the current client organization. As part of the requirements gathering process, a series of JAD sessions were held, with expert end-users from the client organization in attendance. The contract called for the new system to retain the look-and-feel of the transfer system, while ensuring that the embedded rules support the client’s business. The JAD sessions were designed to analyze the rules that came with the transfer system, and change them as necessary to meet the client’s requirements.
As I observed the analyst, I realized that he did not fully understand the functionality contained within the transfer system; nor was he trying to understand how the client conducted its business, in order to better facilitate the needed changes. It seemed to me that his intent was to “shoehorn” the transfer system into the client organization with as little change as possible. The client staff had no experience with the system being analyzed, and were afraid to challenge the “expert.” I stopped the JAD session, and asked the participants if they understood how the system would work when implemented in their offices. They did not. We made some adjustments and they were soon able to assist the analyst in developing the correct set of functional rules required to support their business.
Why was I able to so quickly determine that the client participants were just not getting it, and he could not? As he explained the system functionality, I watched faces, awkward shifting in chairs, furtive glances to other participants, and weak responses to the analyst’s questions. While his “telling” communication skills were very good, his “receiving” communication skills were virtually nonexistent.
I have seen this phenomenon so often on projects, that I no longer call it a phenomenon. It’s a given. And it’s a huge disservice to our clients. Yet consulting firms, corporate IT departments, and even our colleges believe that if they train the technical aspects of project management, then more systems will be delivered successfully. And they neglect the one aspect of project delivery that offers the greatest opportunity for success – good interactive client communication skills.
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