Preparing a Project Plan Face-to-Face
Do you realize that it wasn’t too terribly long ago that the only way people could see each other was face-to-face? There used to be a time (as in just under twenty years ago) that the internet was in its infancy, someone that had an email address was a rarity, and fax machines (with thermal paper) were all the rage! If you wanted to see someone’s face you would need to jump in a plane, train, or automobile and make a trip.
Technology has certainly come a long way since those days. Smart phones, video conferencing, enormous monitors, and hyper-fast Internet speeds are common place these days making our jobs as project managers that much easier and travel not as frequent. With all of these advances, however, the reality is that there are many times when nothing beats a face-to-face conversation.
We’ll discuss why you sometimes need to know how to do a project plan face-to-face and make the most of that limited time together.
Problems that Surface without Seeing Each Other Face-to-Face
Most organizations have some element of a Sales function and Services function. The job of the Sales department is to go out and find the work. The job of the Services department is to deliver on these commitments the company has made. Typically, the Sales team will have had a number of face-to-face meetings with the potential client making sure that the solution the company offers meets their needs. They then hand it over to the Services team to implement the details.
There are a couple of issues that arise from this if you are wondering how to prepare a project plan without meeting in person.
No matter how finely tuned your sales department is, there’s almost always going to be a disconnect between what your company can offer and what has been promised. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s the rare situation when a potential client’s needs align 100% with your offering. It is also the rare salesperson that says that they may not be possible (and that’s OK…it pushes the envelope for the team internally to try new things and more importantly brings the work in).
You are now thrust into the position of taking over the project and need to know how to do a project plan with somewhat limited information as to what has been agreed upon. You can have conference call after conference call as you try to understand what the client’s needs are and what they have been promised. People’s attention and time is divided on these calls and it will typically end up in frustration, confusion, and no progress.
2. Lack of Trust
Another huge challenge of not meeting the client’s team face-to-face from the beginning is a lack of trust. You are focused on producing a project plan with the client and they are focused on what they have been promised from the sales team. The reality of what can and can’t be done begins to come into conversations and many times that is their first impression of you as a project manager. Depending upon how you position what you can and can’t do will determine how much trust they will put in you.
Couple this with the fact that they don’t have a clue who you are, what you look like, or how you carry yourself. You are just a tiny voice on the other side of the call that they are expected to follow and believe without reservation. Sure, you can get to that point based upon results and execution, but it will take much longer if you never have the opportunity to meet in person.
3. Lack of Collaboration and Camaraderie
Another critical part when you need to know how to do a project plan with a client is the element of collaboration and camaraderie. This is ability to look at each other over the table or sitting side by side from each other and letting the ideas flow. You may say something that you can tell sparks some interest from the other person and then expand upon it further. This generates another idea from someone else who then inspires someone else to add to this quickly emerging train of thought. It’s hard to have this same dynamic come into play if you’ve never met each other in person. Plus, it’s tough to do a virtual high-five when there has been some revolutionary breakthrough that emerges from such collaboration.
How to Make the Most of a Face-to-Face Meeting
One of the optimal times to get together as a joint project team between your company and the client’s is the project kick-off meeting. This is the time when there is a good solid framework around the project plan, but still some flexibility around what can and can’t be done. It’s also a good opportunity to provide education to their team about how your company operates along with gleaning some insight into their structure as well. Here are some more tips.
1. Make Sure you Have the Right People There
You don’t have to bring an entire entourage to the client’s site, especially if there is a substantial amount of travel involved. But, you should have a key representative from each major group that the client will be interacting with. It’s your job as project manager to coordinate all these efforts, but it’s also good for the client to have a direct relationship with these key players.
Make sure key resources from the client are in attendance as well. There is nothing worse than not having the right people in the room when questions are asked and answers are not forthcoming.
2. Keep it on Track
One challenge that does surface is that a meeting can have a tendency to get off track quickly. For example, someone may bring up a topic that nobody had considered up to this point (a good thing), but discussing this topic at this time also has the potential of derailing the rest of the very important topics that need to be covered. It’s up to you as a Project Manager to find the best time to discuss this new subject. You may want to spend a bit of time on it now and see if it can be resolved. If not, schedule a follow-up meeting to give this necessary topic the right amount of time for consideration.
3. Schedule the Right Amount of Time
You will be amazed at how much can be accomplished if you have the right people in the room to prepare a project plan and keep it on track. One final aspect to making the meeting a success is to schedule the right amount of time necessary to finish the plan. You may want to have a contingency plan in place for another half-day or entire day to finish up any loose ends in order to make the most of your time together.
It’s hard not to see the progress that has been made when it comes to technology, but, there’s still nothing like getting together in person from time to time. Sure, it may seem somewhat old-fashioned, but you will be very pleased with the long-term results that come from this investment of time, money, and resources.
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