Examples of Poor Project Management - Introducing an Intermediary between the Project Manager and the Client

I will continue our series on Examples of Poor Project Management with a scenario from some of the projects ran by multi-national companies, with geographically distributed teams: having a project team member act as the intermediary between the project manager and the client of the project. I’m not saying that this is always a bad idea but unfortunately, more often than not, I have seen projects fail to some degree due to having such a project setup. In this article I will explore the reasons why projects can have such intermediary roles and how this can lead to negative results. After reading this article, please share your experience on this subject.

Why Would a Project Manager Introduce an Intermediary?

Let’s start with understanding why a project manager (or someone else in his/her management hierarchy) would introduce an intermediary between him/her and the client. In my experience with projects, I have noticed only three scenarios when this happens:

  1. Improve the relationship with the client - by having a dedicated client contact on the ground, always with the client, listening to his/her needs and requests. This especially happens in multi-national companies which run projects with geographically distributed teams. There are often situations when the project manager is based in a country a few time-zones away from the country/region where the client is based. In order to maintain a continuous relationship with the client, the project organization includes somebody who’s the client manager of the project. This person is responsible for listening to all client’s needs and requests, managing the execution of project activities by the organization of the client, client adoption of the project, realizing the value creation promised to the client, etc. To simplify - the intermediary is the bridge through which all the communication goes between the client and the rest of the project team.
  2. Filter noise coming from the client - this can happen in situations when the client is viewed as being very demanding and/or chaotic. In such a situation, the project manager (or someone else in his/her management hierarchy) is likely to introduce a client contact as an intermediary, to act as a filtering mechanism for all client requests. This person is tasked with negotiating all client requests and is instructed to pretty much “say no” to as many requests as possible, so that project changes (in scope, timeline, costs, etc.) are kept to a minimum.
  3. Lack of Project Management capability - it can happen also that the project manager lacks the skills and/or experience to manage the client of the project in an effective manner. Therefore, the project manager (or someone else in his/her management hierarchy) is likely to introduce the role of a client contact to either compensate for the shortcomings of the project manager or simply as a scape-goat, so that there is someone else to put the blame on, in case of project failure.

Negative Results Resulting from Introducing an Intermediary

Now let’s see how things can go wrong in all of these scenarios:

  1. Improve the relationship with the client - in this scenario it is critical that both the client manager and the project manager have a great level of expertise and are able to communicate efficiently. Unfortunately there are many things that can go wrong here:
    • If the client manager lacks the skills required to understand the client’s needs & request and translate them correctly to the rest of the project team - then you will surely get into situations where the client is not satisfied and feels his/her needs are not taken into consideration during project execution.
    • If the project manager lacks the skills required to understand client requirements, as translated by the client manager, then you have two negative outcomes: the project manager and the client manager will be in a continuous conflict, ruining the harmony of the project team and the client’s needs won’t be translated correctly into project activities and deliverables.
    • Both the project manager and the client manager lack the skills required to understand client requirements and translate them into project activities and deliverables. The client will become highly frustrated with the project and, on top of that, there are high chances of conflict inside the project team.
  2. Filter noise coming from the client - this scenario is more straightforward in the sense that it is a lot easier to identify what can go wrong. First of all, the client will surely start to feel put-down by the project team and not listened to. This can easily create conflictual situations with the client which can lead to the complete failure of the project and even to its premature termination.
    If the client manager manages to do a great job, without creating too much frustration on the client side, the project manager and the rest of the team won’t be able to get to know the client and his/her true needs. Therefore there are high chances for the team not to deliver a project which truly meets the client’s needs and business requirements.
  3. Lack of Project Management capability - in this scenario, the way things can go wrong is harder to predict. Some of the things that can happen are: conflict inside the project team - between the project manager and the client manager, client frustration with the execution of the project, delivery of an incomplete project scope or without the required quality, etc.

How To Avoid Problems in Such a Scenario

Even if you have an intermediary between you and the client make sure that, as a project manager, you have regular contact with the client, not only through board reviews. You can do this by inviting the client to some of the regular team-meetings or to all of the important meetings where changes and deliverables are reviewed. Another tool that can help is that, prior to having any important change approved, there is a specific workshop organized with the client to validate the client’s view and how well the change was documented and understood both the client manager and the project team.

The message is: no matter how your project is organized, make sure that, as a project manager, you have regular contact with the client and you don’t fully delegate this role to another person in the project organization.

Have You Lived Similar Scenarios?

I am really curios you have experienced similar scenarios in your project work and how well things worked out. Therefore don’t hesitate to share your personal experience.

Related content:

Examples of Poor Project Management - How Not to Involve Your Project Board & Stakeholders
Examples of Poor Project Management - Not Seeing the Woods for the Trees
Examples of Poor Project Management - Mistaking E-mail for Communication