Mothering My Clients?

I’m in the process of finishing up a stint as a project manager at work. While this isn’t my usual job, I value good project management and think it’s too often overlooked. I actually got certified as a PM at NYU years ago, in hopes that the training would serve me well in all sorts of ways professionally.

But here’s the truth of the matter. For the past four months, I haven’t been using the skills I learned in project management. I’ve been using the skills I’ve learned from having a five-year-old. Because having clients* turns out to be surprising similar to having a kid. Here’s what I mean:

1) They need a lot of attention. I have a sweet boy at home who may be cursed by being an only child. He’s really happiest when he has my undivided attention, and he occasionally acts up to get it. And do are my clients.

2) Things need to be explained carefully, and often more than once. Clients hire consultants because we know something they don’t know, so it’s fair for us to give detailed explanations. I’m certainly not questioning that. What tickles me is that with some clients — just like with kids — it needs to be done very, very frequently. And all you can do is go with it.

3) If they don’t like the answer they get the first time, they’ll just ask again. John wants a popsicle. My clients want a compressed schedule. Either way, I’m likely to get the same question many times, in the hopes that the answer will change. I have to be tough.

4) If they still don’t like the answer, they’ll go ask someone else. A project team, like a set of parents, needs to present a united front. Kids and clients can sense weakness, and will exploit it.

5) They respond well to warnings and boundaries. If I want John to do something, I tell him, set a deadline, and then remind him every thirty minutes until the deadline arrives. It’s not so different from what I do with clients. Clear expectations, lots of reminders. I don’t want there to be any unpleasant surprises for me or for them.

6) Good manners go a long, long way. I’ve spent countless hours reminding John to say please and thank you, and when he uses good manners (without whining), I’m about 100 times more likely to go along with whatever plan he’s proposing. Same goes for clients. It pays to be pleasant and kind.

7) It’s hard to say good-bye. My kindergartener still likes to be walked into school, and sometimes attaches himself to my leg rather than marching off down the hall. Clients do not attach themselves to my leg, but the number of “just one more thing…” phone calls sometimes feels about the same.

In the end: it’s all about patience, patience, patience and nice manners. At home and at work. And  I do make a real effort to refrain from putting my clients in time out.

*Attention any client who may have stumbled onto this post: I don’t mean you.

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