When starting any project, the details and setup in the beginning sets you up for success.
- When starting a new project setting up the project details in the beginning helps line you up for success, but where do you start? Early on in my career when I landed projects I just couldn't wait to start. I would get a proposal signed, sometimes agreeing to whatever date the client gave us, even if I knew it would be challenging for us to meet it. And then set about working at whatever pace necessary to deliver on what I promised. And then after a year of seemingly being successful, landing and producing great work, I was burned out. I had no money in the bank and I was feeling depressed. How can I be so busy and work so hard and yet barely be able to eke out a living? There are many factors that were causing any number of issues, but one of the key factors that when I started a project with a client I did not have an onboarding process for that project.
Communication and developing a strong relationship with the client all starts with the onboarding and it's essential. The definition of onboarding is familiarizing a new customer or client with one's products or services. I would add to that definition that onboarding is also warmly welcoming your client and using the kickoff meeting to gain understanding of your client's unique communication needs, setting expectations, introducing them to your process, and building in project controls. The first step to onboarding is the welcome. Ideally we try to have a face-to-face or video kickoff.
With new clients we take the time to send a welcome email. We send this regardless of the form our kickoff takes. This welcome email includes some key information. We first share a PDF that highlights the general process we take when we do a project. We let the client know that we believe communication is key and we ask them if they're familiar with the project management software we use. Currently we use Asana, because that works best for our team, but the software is just a tool. So if the client if familiar with Asana we move onto the next step. But if not, we tell them not to worry, we will set them up and then share with them how it works.
Even if they prefer other forms of communication, face-to-face meetings, video chats, phone calls, or just using email, we reinforce the value of this software and set them up with it anyways. That way in case they ever want to check in there's a spot they can go to any time, any place. Years ago this was a sticking point for some clients and we still do get clients occasionally who do not want to learn or deal with one more thing. If that is the case and we value the client, we adjust. But the majority of the time having access to this is a relief for our clients and very welcome.
We then go back over the agreements, contracts, scope of work, and rough schedule, and make sure all is good to go and officially authorized. If nothing has changed we move on. If something has we simply address it right there and make the necessary adjustments. Next, we make any team introductions and talk about the roles each team member will play on our side. We confirm on the client's side who will lead the key communication touch points for the project. This is a big moment. Having clarity about who will communicate what on each team is crucial.
We reinforce again the way the project will be communicated and, this is important as well, our expectations about the client's responses. A key project control point is client sign-off and feedback. We make sure we've identified the approval process on their side and we make note if any adjustments need to be made. We made need to present more in person or build in extra time for a traveling boss. We ask as many questions up front, so we can plan for any possible challenges. We also communicate to our client any issues we may have coming up. Vacations or other obligations may change the points of contact throughout the project and we want the client to feel taken care of and not taken by surprise when someone different suddenly appears.
Once all the project documentation has been signed off on, the client's key contact information entered in our database, and our contact info in theirs, their preferred communication style noted, our general project process outlined, and the team has been introduced, we move on to the next big moment in project management, the ever-changing schedule.
- Determining your project management strengths and weaknesses
- Wrapping up a project
- Making project management a priority for your team
- Identifying challenges early on
- Dealing with client needs
- Reviewing outcomes and processes