Relationship Trumps Everything

I’ve learned a lot about project management as a result of the trainings and schooling I’ve had.  But one thing I was never taught was that in any almost any work situation, relationship trumps everything.

I can bring a project in late.  I can bring a project in over budget.  I can expand the scope of a project well beyond what was originally agreed to.  And there can be no ill consequences for me, my project team or anyone else – as long as the relationship with the client is positive and warm – and I’m delivering value.

So, let me first make clear: I am assuming you are delivering value to the client.  But even if you deliver value, you may not be kept on to do the work.

There are a number of threads in this when I dissect that idea.  With whom exactly is it that the positive relationship needs to exist?  Who from the project side needs to be involved in this relationship?  How does one know if a relationship is positive?  What has to be done to create this relationship?

What is the impact of not having a positive relationship?  In sum, it gets you fired.

So, with whom do I need to develop and retain good relationship?  First and foremost with my project sponsor, my big “c” Client, the one who pays the bills.  Then all the people who give my big “c” Client advice – they’re critical.  And the people on my project team – absolutely essential.  Also, there are all the people from the client organization with whom I work, my clients with a small “c”.

All of these people are really important.

It’s important to have the necessary knowledge to deliver a project.  I don’t deny that.  But once you’ve got your PMP what matters most is relationships.  It really is.   I have seen projects with really good project management people on them lose contracts because of lousy relationship skills.

Here is something I recently experienced.  The client my business partner and I have been working with for the past two years had another consulting company produce a communication plan.  It was really good.  It covers all the basics: message; who to communicate with; channels of communication; timing.  But the person who developed the communication plan with the Client and the project team was terrible at relationships.  This person would go to meetings and act arrogantly, saying things like, “You should know this already”.  They would miss critical meetings without having a really important reason that prevented them from attending.

The interesting thing is that this person’s work product – and the products of the consulting company with whom they were connected – was excellent.   Our Client would complain to us about these other consultants and we would nod solemnly, agreeing that the client felt they had a problem.  But my business colleague and I would use the reports these other consultants had produced as the basis of work we did with that same client.  We would comment, “You know, the consultants from Company X made a very interesting point about communicating with stakeholders”.  But the relationship between our client and the other consultants had been ruptured.  These other consultants lost the work after only completing a third of their contract.  It wasn’t because of their work product, it was because of their poor relationships.

My colleague and I, on the other hand, produced real perceived value to the Client and the client project team.  The emphasis here is on the “perceived”.  We always did at least a bit more than we were asked to do.  We were always available, 24×7.  Our relationships were warm – not intimate but definitely warm.  And we tried to stay very clear on producing value – of course, the other consultants produced value but lost their work.

But having that good relationship allowed us a good deal of freedom.  Our “weekly” status reports were routinely late.  We go our billing in just on time.  But the Client and the whole client team saw us work hard, produce good product and we maintained a warm though professional relationship.  And we prospered.  The client very happily is a wonderfully positive reference for us.  They want us to come back.  We have found that it is true that relationship does trump everything.


2 thoughts on “Relationship Trumps Everything”

  1. Thanks, Eric! Yes, so true that relationships are key. In the extreme this can turn into favoring relationships over results. Some people talk about balancing relationships with results, but I think the key for all of us is to achieve results THROUGH relationships. It’s a key success factor that I was woefully oblivious to as a naive newbie to the world of project management, and it cost me. Results through relationships!

  2. User Avatar

    Totally agree. I’ve been consulting 7 years now, after 15 inside companies and the longer I do this work, the more I realize it’s ALL about relationships. I see it as the #1 factor in getting work, keeping difficult projects from getting railroaded, and having a happy customer.

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