The role of the project client only seems simple at first glance. In reality, however, it is very versatile and changes in the course of the project.
In the initial phase of a project, the project client is the main initiator, making important decisions and providing the necessary resources. During the implementation phase he demands intermediate results and makes trend-setting project decisions. In the course of project completion, he formally accepts the project and releases the project manager from his tasks and duties.
But what if the client’s role is not sufficiently fulfilled – due to a lack of understanding of project management or simply due to a lack of time?
The typical initial situation
In recent years, many companies have begun to build up project management know-how. On the one hand with the aim to ensure the handling of projects in a professional process with the highest possible quality and on the other hand to achieve strong growth rates in productivity. These are high management expectations, which can only be achieved with a holistic design approach, but which are rarely mentioned in practice.
Very often, employees are sent to inter-company project management training courses on an ad hoc basis. A much too briefly seized measure, if one considers that for a professional project completion a broad project management understanding is necessary with all project participants – in particular with the high-level personnel and clients. Not to mention the lack of organizational measures, such as the establishment of a tailor-made project management framework with standardized reporting and adequate tool support.
The most important task of the project client
The project client must take time for the project
The reasons for the failure of projects are unclear and uncoordinated project orders, a lack of project resources already at the start of a project and the lack of availability of many project clients, which is deplored everywhere.
These are all tasks and responsibilities that lie with the client and not with the project manager. The role of the project client in the project commissioning and
The management of the project development process is very important and places high demands on managers in project-oriented companies.
Awareness of the tasks and competencies as well as the professional handling of conflicts between project and line are central tasks that the project client has to master. The active perception of the function over the entire duration of the project is of decisive importance.
Although the project client is not directly involved in the daily project work, there are important interfaces and points of contact in which the client significantly determines and influences the success of a project.
The perfect project client
- Has a lot of power in the company.
- Has a high understanding of project management and knows his tasks and responsibilities as a project client.
- Has a great interest in the success of his project.
- Ensures that „his“ project has sufficient human resources and budget.
- Gives his project manager a clear project assignment.
- Regularly takes time for the project manager to coordinate his work.
- Actively supports the project and the project manager in case of difficulties and problems in the project.
Tasks of the project client
Choosing the project manager
The selection of the „right“ project manager often determines success or failure. Not everyone is suitable as a project manager. The most important prerequisites that a project manager must bring with him are personality traits such as leadership competence, the ability to work in a team, the ability to deal with conflicts and the ability to self-reflect, to mention only the most important traits here.
A further important requirement criterion is the processual and methodical project management competence. A well-trained and experienced project manager masters a broad portfolio of project management methodologies and knows how to integrate them into the project management process as design elements.
Last but not least, when selecting a project manager, one should also pay attention to the contents of the project to be implemented. If, for example, it is a project with a strong change character, experience in organizational issues and change processes is of great value, as is the recognition of the project manager in the company and among the managers.
Clear assignment of tasks to the project manager
In practice, it is rather rare for a client to commission the project manager with a precise and written project assignment. It is much more likely that the assignment will be verbal – usually between doors, by telephone or by e-mail.
In such cases, the project manager is required to systematically research the progress of the project initiation to date and to collect information on previous events and decisions. A structured project order serves as the basis for coordination with the client.
The result is a jointly developed point of view with a clear specification of the strategic direction, measurable targets and clear priorities for the project manager.
Procurement of the necessary project resources
Many projects fail due to a lack of project resources. The selection of the project team members and the filling of the defined project roles are delicate procedures and require a lot of experience and tact. Often the reasons are a lack of availability of important know-how carriers or a lack of understanding among line managers for the importance of project work. The result is an open conflict between the project and the line, which especially affects the progress of the project.
The precise implementation of the specifications by the management is only possible if the project manager receives the necessary specialist know-how and the corresponding financial and personnel resources from the client.
If the required specific resources cannot be covered internally, the missing know-how has to be purchased on the open market. This is often a very difficult negotiation process between the project client and the project manager, which is not least influenced by the importance and significance of the project.
The bigger this is for the entire company, the easier it will be for the project manager to convince his client of the need for external resources. However, if the project is small and has no particular impact on the business strategy, it is more likely to be delayed than to incur additional costs for external support.
Making project-specific decisions
In the implementation phase of a project, the client is required to make pending and important decisions in order to ensure progress in the project. The preliminary work is done by the project manager and his team, who regularly monitors the actual status of the project and records any deviations from the course.
In the case of deviations with minor consequences, the project manager can usually decide for himself and initiate measures. In most cases, however, critical deviations from the course require additional resources and budget. In this case, the client must be consulted.
It is recommended to institutionalize a project client meeting about the course of the project. The client is informed about interim results at regular intervals and can make important decisions very quickly if necessary.
External representation of project interests
One of the most important tasks of the project client is to represent the interests of the project externally and thus support the operative work of the project team. In concrete terms, this means conducting project marketing and providing stakeholders with up-to-date information.
In many cases, a project is confronted with a multitude of internal and external influences, which can promote or hinder the project. The specific task for the project client includes all measures to bring the interests of the project in line with the requirements of the environment. The results are fewer conflicts, the creation of understanding and the increase of acceptance with the affected surrounding groups.
You cannot do without a project client!
Support of the project manager in case of problems and crises
As a rule, project crises should be prevented by applying professional project management. However, since many companies are not yet optimally prepared for the management of projects, extreme situations occur again and again in practice which pose an existential threat to the project and sometimes also to the company.
This requires direct intervention by the project client, who is thus confronted with high social complexity and great decision-making pressure. After a negotiation process that is usually power political, the client proclaims the project crisis and installs a team whose task it is to investigate the causes and take immediate action.
This is often only possible with the support of external persons who work out proposals for crisis management with their neutral view. The project crisis is officially ended by the client.
The project client must develop an overall understanding of the complete project development process and, in particular, actively shape and fulfil his role. Successful project management requires a continuous relationship between the client and the project manager.
The client is an important external representative of the project interests and always intervenes actively in the events when the personal authority and competence of the project manager are no longer sufficient.