3 Questions Technical Project Managers Dread

Project Managers are client’s front-line for a company and team. During a few moments in the day where we can focus on delivery, often, an e-mail or call can appear from a client that makes us pause and cringe to provide a response. As a consultant, questions from clients provide a fruitful experience as drives our passion, however certain questions can make us second guess.

1. Client: How long will this take?

This question typically comes in two forms 1. How long will a bug take to be resolved? OR 2. How long will this feature request take to be executed? Both questions result in the same outcome. The project manager may have prior knowledge and can provide an estimate, however, we have to look at the bigger picture and think about what else may be impacted, are there any risks, is this in scope. During a project implementation process, the team has to spend the time to evaluate requests. For an agile team, I usually leave this discussion during the sprint planning session, however, some matter are more urgent than others. Urgency can stem from the client having added pressure from business owners all the time.

How clients should ask this question: Due to X (re-organization), we need to investigate if X (department menu re-structure) is feasible within our project timeline. If not, we can remove X (styling) from the project scope.

The structure of the proposed question is important because it does not leave the delivery team spinning their heads and figuring out why the request came about in the first place and what can be de-prioritized. Clients throw a substantial amount at the delivery team without always thinking about the time it takes for us to evaluate their needs (which always impacts resources, time, scope, budget).

2. Client: Why isn’t this working?

Dealing with clients identifying bugs are no fun. From a software development perspective, developers may want to spend time cleaning or streamlining code, however not all clients want to know about it or care about code craftsmanship. When developers are focused on pushing for deadlines, their focus tends to be on the finishing line due to all the pressure. As a project manager and Advanced Certified ScrumMaster, I do my best to include a buffer time within each development cycle for peer code reviews. Explaining to a client why there is a bug or an error is daunting, but letting them know mitigation strategies for the future on slowing down on change or feature requests to fix the code or re-architecture, can provide for a better system with fewer errors.

How clients should ask the question: We came across X (inability to save) through the following steps. Let us know if this is a known bug, unknown or human error. Attached are the screenshots.

A lot of times, clients may forget that we already have a bug captured in the backlog and will work through it. Sometimes, it may be a new bug and need to know what they did to retrieve the steps. A good amount of times, it is a human error so the manager can just let them know the correct steps they should take.

3. Client: You won’t charge me right?

Clients always feel as though since they are paying for your work, they can ask for any and everything. Sometimes, if there is a bug, clients will say, this shouldn’t come out of my budget. However, clients tend to forget “favors” that the project team may have provided. One of my strategies is to document all these favors in a project modifications section with a status report or put together change requests and submit to client. The conversation can sometimes be awkward, but having full documentation always helps to reference during tough conversations. Be prepared before discussions and if you are not sure, do not commit to an answer until after a client call.



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