This spring, I read an article by Lonnie Pacelli, in which the business and project management guru compared a doctor’s “bedside manner” to that of a project manager. It struck a cord with me.
We know the importance of soft skills. At Springthrough, we take them into consideration regardless of the field – from development to finance. But Pacelli advocates that it is especially important for a project manager to show empathy to clients. As a project manager, I see that value every day.
We manage various expectations, build a website project plan, help to coordinate and otherwise determine schedules, and often serve as the key point of contact for both the client as well as internal team members.
If we don’t have soft skills to support those business-critical functions, our client’s experience is going to suffer.
I attempt to incorporate Pacelli’s business understanding of the bedside manner in my interactions with every client. As a guide to help them navigate the myriad of challenges that can surface during any project, my role is to ultimately help our clients feel as comfortable and confident as possible.
As a client, the launch of any key project in which you engage with an outside resource can be a daunting endeavor. If that project entails a fair amount of complexity, you wouldn’t want your key contact to appear cold or calculated. You also wouldn’t want someone who rushes through every meeting, or treats you as an inconvenience if you have questions. So when project managers think about their communication plan, they should consider how they communicate in addition to the communication schedule or process.
Unfortunately, when you’re in the middle of a project, it can be easy to overlook your bedside manner. Project Management is an extremely process-driven field. It is methodical. We’re about process and the tools to maximize that process. And we talk a lot about communication. We define how frequently we should communicate. We define our role as managing expectations through clear and accurate communications.
But we don’t often talk about how we make clients feel in this process – despite the fact most people would admit that emotions affect our decisions (business or otherwise).
I often work with clients on large-scale, complex projects – this might include a renovated website for an enterprise-sized business. Significant financial resources are committed to the project and there are a lot of moving pieces -- and people! Projects of this magnitude require that coordination occurs across several departments within a company, and on occasion, with other third-party firms involved in the project. So while the role of project manager is build a website project plan that monitores schedulge, budget and scope, the manner of communication is just as critical.
If you’re undergoing a medical procedure, you want an expert in their field – while demonstrating empathy in a way that guides you positively through the process. Similarly, from the client’s perspective, if you’re devoting a large amount of time, dollars and energy into a project, you want to feel confident and empowered, not treated as a nuisance.
Thankfully, I work at a place that doesn’t only value good bedside manner but treats it as a requisite to every client engagement. Internally, we often discuss that our behavior should be that as a partner, not a vendor. This is true no matter the client – large or small. Because we aren’t working on “just another project,” it is an important initiative for our client. Our communication and behavior should reflect that understanding.
We are in this together.