Project Management Goes Both Ways

A Partnership Approach

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In the realm of professional services and project management , navigating the fine line between being a gracious host and a respected professional often involves recognizing that project management is a bidirectional journey. It’s not just about meeting client expectations but also about managing those relationships with as much diligence. This balance is crucial, as working with a client should be viewed as a partnership where both parties contribute to the project’s success. While the desire to be likable and accommodating is natural, professionalism is what garners respect and cements lasting business ties. This article delves into an illustrative email from Justine Ramdas, one of our esteemed partners, who exemplifies how to maintain this delicate balance. By being both polite and respectful, as well as professional and assertive, she demonstrates that managing clients is just as vital as fulfilling their needs. We’ll dissect the email, piece by piece, offering practical strategies and insights that you can incorporate into your dealings with clients, partners, and your team to ensure that project management truly goes both ways.



Why Over-Accommodation Doesn’t Cut It

Many in the service industry fall into the trap of prioritizing hospitality over professionalism, mistaking immediate agreeableness for long-term business respect. This approach, while well-intentioned, can result in a weakening of professional boundaries, making it challenging to manage expectations and deliver outcomes effectively.

Instead, a professional must resist the urge to simply have clients like them and instead focus on building mutual respect and trust. This entails focusing on delivering what is best for the client and their goals, which may include setting clear boundaries, being transparent about expectations, and communicating honestly, especially when delivering difficult news.

Below is an email exchange between our team and our dear friend Justine, in her role as a consultant to PD. Justine’s mission: Audit and provide recommendations on an important operational process.


Attempt to Reschedule

An hour before our scheduled meeting, a team member suggested postponing due to several urgent, high-stakes projects that required our immediate attention. Additionally, we didn’t complete our homework from the previous meeting, providing us an additional reason to postpone.



Justine’s Response

Rather than agreeing to our request, Justine held our team accountable to making the meeting happen – politie and firm. So much so, we felt the need to showcase the email response as a masterclass in professionalism.

Note: All real names have been replaced with Star Trek characters. Learn more on Star Trek’s influence on PD culture.


Justine’s Email
Translation and Strategy

Hi Lt Worf, Lt Cmdr. Data, and Wesley,
Starts with a friendly greeting, addressing each recipient by name, which sets a respectful tone for the communication. Short and sweet.

I feel similarly about getting more client input before continuing.
Acknowledges and validates the team’s concerns, showing that their opinions are heard and considered.

This is an important, not urgent project, I get it. For us to stay on track, we need to lean in and troubleshoot how to get more responses and set a target for the number we’re aiming for.
Clarifies the project’s status (important but not urgent) and emphasizes the need for a proactive approach, encouraging teamwork and problem-solving.

I recommend that we have a shorter, virtual meeting today to refresh our game plan, keep the energy alive and moving forward.
Proposes a practical solution to address the concern, suggesting a compromise (a shorter meeting) to maintain momentum without derailing schedules.

Let’s keep it to 30 minutes with Lt Cmdr. Data, Wesley, and I. How’s 1:30-2? Can you send me a meet link?
Specifies the meeting duration and participants, making the request time-specific and actionable, while also taking on the responsibility of organizing it.

Lt Worf – since you’re getting pulled into other things, before the meeting can you share via email a few points about how we increase client response and any thoughts about the engagement of the PMs in this?
Acknowledges Lt Worf’s workload and asks for input in a way that allows for contribution without requiring immediate time commitment.

Ideally, we don’t change meetings like this last minute. I know we all are busy and have a lot on the go, but it’s hard for me to accommodate last minute changes. Especially since we planned this 3 weeks ago with a clear next steps and a timeline.
Politely expresses the inconvenience caused by last-minute changes, and reinforces the value of planning and adhering to agreed schedules.

Can we have an agreement to have any meeting changes communicated 48 hours in advance?
Suggests a reasonable and specific solution to prevent similar issues in the future while also encouraging consensus among the team.

I know we can get this reimagined and cleaned up with our commitment and I’m excited to take it over the finish line together. Emphasizes teamwork, commitment, and a shared goal to boost morale and encourage collaboration, ending on a positive note.
Once we meet this afternoon, we’ll update our timeline and find the next time to meet in person.


Justine R

Outlines next steps in a structured approach.


Why Professional Prevails

The balance between being a gracious host and a competent and respected professional is nuanced. The email response by Justine is a great example of how one can navigate difficult conversations. It’s important to ensure that while clients may appreciate your congeniality, it’s one’s professionalism that fosters a strong and collaborative partnership.



Further Reading and Resources

This topic of balancing professionalism with hospitality has been thoughtfully explored by industry experts. For those seeking to delve deeper, the following books are indispensable resources:

  • “The Trusted Advisor” by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford: This work explores the critical role of trust in professional relationships, emphasizing empathy, integrity, and expertise.
  • “Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play” by Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig: The authors propose transforming the client-service provider dynamic into a collaborative partnership focused on mutual success and respect.
  • “Selling the Invisible” by Harry Beckwith: Beckwith tackles the unique challenges of selling intangible services, offering insights into building strong, respectful client relationships.

These books provide further insights into the nuanced art of the professional services industry. They offer practical advice for strengthening relationships, built on respect and trust.

The Author

Jenn Nguyen
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