The Ultimate Guide to Managing Client Conflict

the ultimate guide to managing client conflict - cover photo

Let’s get real. You will have disagreements with clients. No matter how long you have been working as a digital project manager. You will still see your finely tuned plans smashed to pieces with one phone call. You will still have to manage client conflict.

There is one key difference between a brand new Digital Project Manager and a veteran of the industry. The latter has been able to develop many strategies for managing this client conflict. Not only that but for completely avoiding it in the first place! Oh, and thicker skin.

In the past few years, I’ve had some horrible experiences. They all have one thing in common; I could have taken action to avoid them! The drive to start this blog because I wanted to share the kind of advice I wish I had when I started. That same motivation is behind this guide.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this is the ultimate guide. I’ve jammed this with everything I have failed to do at least once, and thus learned the hard way. From the mindset shift you need to make to be successful, to the best way to position yourself in meeting rooms.

I’ll be honest with you here. Writing this has changed how I work completely. I started writing an article about how the best way to manage conflict is to avoid it completely. The more I wrote, the more I thought about how I could have done certain things in a different way in my own past. The more I reflected, I realised I had much more to write about.

I hope you come back to this more than once. I am certain I’ll come back and read this more than once, anyway. To help both of us, I’ll list the contents out here. Continue reading

Mise en place for the busy project manager

mise en place

Restaurant kitchens have to be run with military precision. If they are not, dishes are prepared incorrectly, in the wrong order, and diners are left disappointed. Everyone has a role to play, with the head chef conducting the action.

The best way to ensure you are not letting the team down is to keep your preparation area organised for prompt action, keeping things clean and tidy, with every tool or ingredient in place, ready to be snatched up and used as soon as an order is placed.

Known as mise en place (putting in place), the best practices of restaurant kitchens can also serve you well in your life as a digital project manager. The two main facets of a DPM role are communication and organisation, and while this article is addressing the latter, I hope that you’ll be able to see how it can affect the former as well. Continue reading

Craft Your Morning Routine

Craft a morning routine

Recently, I went to Olso with a friend for a midweek break. One of the main Oslo attractions for us was the Viking ship museum. I don’t know why this came as a surprise, but we found out that the Viking people had their own philosophies and ways of thinking outside of religion. One of the things I picked up in the gift shop was a book – Havamal – which contains verses of Viking poetry outlining the general approach to life. A few passages stuck with me and have influenced this article. Continue reading

Keep in touch with the bigger picture

Keep in touch with the bigger picture

If you are a new PM learning to work in a PMO with other PMs for the first time, you may not even think about why you need to need to keep in touch with the bigger picture. Hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll have an understanding of how something that sounds so boring can be so useful in your career and also your life.

Learn your company’s strategic goals

It might seem like silly corporate box ticking sometimes, but having strategic goals tied closely to their values, and communicating them with the wider team is one of the best things that a board of directors can do. Not only do these shared values let people coming into the company know exactly what kind of company they will be working with, they can also serve to make the team more cohesive, as you know that this group of people you work with have a shared group of values, and are working towards the same things. Continue reading

The key to improving faster: listen more than you talk

If you’ve been a DPM for a while, you will know how quickly your skills can change over the course of a year, or even a few months. This can happen without any input or intentionality on your behalf, so you would be forgiven for thinking that you don’t need to put in any extra effort to continue to improve.

The truth is, there are a few strategies and habits you can employ as part of your day which can make levelling up your skills over the next few years feel as easy and effortless as it was in the first few years. Don’t worry, if your first few years were a lot more challenging than I’m making out here, the subject of this article will help you improve meteorically. Continue reading

Do you all speak the same language?

Do you all speak the same language

Some people may be the only project manager at their agency, or may even be wearing the PM hat while juggling other tasks as well. This post is primarily for those of you who work with other PMs, and discussions about how best to approach certain processes or problems is a common occurrence. This is sometimes called a Project Management Office (PMO), but it may also be more informally named.

Working with the team who will design and build websites is something you are going to have to do as part of your job, and communicating with people from different technical background and skills than you is something you will only get better at. That’s your bread and butter. Working effectively with other PMs who will likely have different ideas on how to do the job is something you will likely have to purposefully cultivate. By the end of this article, you should not only understand why you need to pay attention to this area, but also have a very clear idea on how to improve this underutilised skill set. Continue reading

A sabbatical

A sabbatical

Hi there.

Kieran here. How are you? I hope your weekend is off to a great start.

Weekends are, for the most part, for relaxing and unwinding. This means different things to different people. Some people like to get drunk. Others like to catch up on the TV they’ve missed during the week. A lot of people, including myself, use the weekend to take part in their hobbies.

A weekend has been specifically designed as a sabbatical from work. We (for the most part) get two days rest, away from our workplace. That this two day rest is being eroded for more and more people is already doing a lot of damage to our society – over-tired and over-stressed employees don’t do the best work they can while at work, but they also suffer in their regular lives as well. Continue reading

Managing email effectively

Managing email seems to be a massive headache for some people, at all scales. This is because people assume you should respond to email faster because it is replacing a written letter, and email is way faster. The email may be faster, but the work it represents probably isn’t.

I’m fairly confident that the way I manage my e-mail will be effective for everyone. I’m not proposing a new productivity method, rather sharing how I get work done in a way that allows me to process tasks efficiently and effectively, where emails are a major source of task allocation. Continue reading

Reasons your to do lists suck

I can’t find any evidence of a historical “starting point” of when humans started to make lists. It seems to be an innate function we have in order to mentally represent and visualise information. Nonetheless, I’d argue there are two basic reasons we create lists of any sort. Firstly, we make lists in order to make sense of a situation, and secondly, we make lists in order to take action in a methodical way.

Lists help us understand complex information

Reality is exceptionally complicated. There is no objective truth, and we have to settle for creating our own subjective reality. Because we experience reality subjectively, and because we have finite energy, we also have finite processing power. This means we have to rely on heuristics, and rules of thumb in order to simplify the world, and reduce uncertainty to a level we can live with. Breaking things down into easily understood categories and lists seems to be built into our very being!

Believe it or not, uncertainty reduction is the motive for a surprising number of human behaviours. We have heavy cognitive biases to ensure we always err on the side of caution. For example, understanding society as a set of groups you either belong to or do not belong to seems to be an automatic process, which can be observed in any society. This allows us to have a baseline for what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, and also what is and is not appropriate behaviour.

Forming lists allows you to handle complex or complicated situations and information, which causes uncertainty, and turn them into concrete and certain chunks, allowing you to better manage the information or situation, and then act on it. All this to say that if you are not making lists right now, you are betraying your species!

If that’s too deep for an article on writing better to do lists, the shorter version is that lists let us break down and understand very complex things in a simple way, and it seems this is built into our DNA.

Why to do list fail

A to do list is a list of actions you have to take. That’s it. A good to do list has to contain a lot more information than that. A bad to do list might even miss out the specific action that must be taken for that item to me marked as complete.

To do lists fair for a few reasons. As well as the three we’ll look at below, I know for a fact that a lot of to do lists fail because people get bogged down in the technology. Whether you use a pen and paper, or Wunderlist on your phone, tablet, laptop and work pc does not matter if you fail to write your to do list properly. It’s just a terrible to do list in a different format.

1. A to do list should be very simple and easy.

Some people make to do lists too complicated by adding far too much to them, making them useless. They refuse to focus them on one area, or keep the to do list to a realistic number of items.

2. A to do list needs to contain tasks of a realistically achievable size.

If you have a daily to do list filled with items that can’t be started and finished in a day, you don’t have a to do list, you have a not-doing list.

3. A to do list should contain actions.

This means you need to add enough detail to allow you to look at it and understand what you need to do, but some people go too far the other way and add far too little detail, making it useless.

What to do about it

First, make sure each item on your list is SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based.

Specific – Don’t write “launch website”, instead write “get sign-off from front-end developer on browser testing checklist, manually check contact form goes to correct place, carry out live test of basket and checkout, receive signoff from marketing team on SEO and webmaster submission” etc etc.

Measurable – Don’t write “write blog posts”, instead write “write four blog posts for February.”

Achievable – Don’t write “launch website” if you haven’t yet received written sign-off from the client. You should instead write “receive written sign-off from client”.

Realistic – Don’t write “reply to Jane about change to deadline”, if you need to speak to the rest of your team to confirm a few items to do this. Instead write “confirm deadline change details with team” and then another task “reply to Jane about change to deadline”

Time-based – Don’t write “Hold meeting with Dunstables team”, instead write “Hold meeting with Dunstables team at 11am”

When you are in the habit of writing SMART goals, you will know how to write a realistic to do item, but you need to go one layer further and apply this thinking to your entire list. After all, a list of perfectly SMART items is no use if that list itself isn’t SMART! If you have multiple responsibilities, you will likely need multiple lists.

I have a to do list for this website, and a to do list for my job. I have a to do list for the household chores I need to tackle at the weekend, and a to do list for the grocery shopping. Imagine if they were all in one big list. It would be ridiculously unmanageable!

Make sure your to do list is for a specific area, keep the number of items to a reasonable amount, and write the items as miniature instructions to yourself. That’s how to stop your to do list sucking, and how to start making them useful again.

Invest in a routine

Invest in a routine

How does you perfect day at work look? It’s vignette tainted, but I’m picturing Bill Withers playing in the background while I walk about effortlessly solving problems and managing the hell out of my projects. Everything slots into place, and goes to plan. Wouldn’t it be great to have a cheat-code to this perfect day?

The good news is that you can totally develop a blueprint for this perfect day that can sometimes feel like a cheat-code The bad news? It might take a while, and I can’t guarantee you’ll have the perfect day.

The only way to create a map you can follow to increase chances of having a perfect day is to invest your time in a routine. Over time, you will find out what works, and what doesn’t and iteratively develop this routine to ensure you stand the best chance of having the best day you can.

Continue reading