DS14 had the chance to do their first client project 2 weeks ago. Luckily, I was the project manager of our first project and in this blog post I will be sharing with you our experience and some of the lessons I learned as a project manager.

In case you are not familiar with how this works at The DS. Each cohort has about 8-9 client projects with each delivered weekly. We get the brief on Monday from the client – most of the times they come to The DS. Halfway through the week we have a catch-up call with the client mostly on Wednesday when we present our thought process and give them an idea of what we are planning to deliver and how would be the outcome eventually. Finally, on Friday we present our findings to the client and we get afterwards feedback from our coaches on what went well and what we need to improve for the following weeks to come.

So, here is some advices and lessons I learned as a project manager:

Think ahead

Before you start your project as a PM, think ahead of what might go wrong and set a plan B if this happens. Think of the first thing you would do after the brief on Monday and how you would assign people to complete tasks.

Prepare a checklist of questions

Have a checklist of questions that are fundamental for the project – maybe something like:

  1. Who would be the key communication from the client side?
  2. What version of Tableau are they using? Our client was using Tableau 2018.1 which luckily, we knew before kicking off the project – otherwise we would have used the button feature and set actions in our dashboards, which don’t exist in the version they use.
  3. When to catch-up?

There are way more to put in the checklist – so you got the idea!

Convo:

You have great people who are willing to help – so don’t miss out on that!

Manage people

Your job as a PM is to manage people – that means you shouldn’t spend most of your time trying to figure out a specific equation. Undoubtedly, you are the one who should be solving problems that your team might face – but I mean by that maybe problems related to the data that would require you to get in touch with the client to solve or to understand. However, that doesn’t also mean you should be 100% unrelated to the work itself – sometimes you would need to interfere and get your hands dirty to keep the project moving forward and deliver it on time and to the required quality. From my experience the best approach is to kind of balance it between in and out.

Know when to de-scope:

Sometimes clients ask for a lot of stuff to be done in a very short period of time, which could be done but not in the time frame you would usually have. For us, it was very important to let the client know during the catch-up of what we are planning to deliver on Friday and what we might not. This allowed us to set their expectations and not throw at them bad surprises on Friday during the presentation.

Schedule

Have a clear schedule of all the tasks that are due to finish. Also, set few meetups with your team to brief each other of what every one is doing and what is their plan moving forward, also a meetup on the day of the presentation to rehearse together and give each other feedback – but make sure to let your team know beforehand and give them enough time to prepare – preferably set those meetings on Monday.

Take the hit

When it comes to the presentation day, make sure to inform the client of what the team couldn’t achieve due to time constraint or whatever reason – instead of having each one of your team showing up and telling the client they client they couldn’t do that and they didn’t finish that. Give the bad news to the client first and then let your team make them happy with their work.

Never give promises or say I will

Unless you are 100% certain you can do it within the time frame. Sometimes, the client asks for more requirements during the catch-up call that most of the time wouldn’t be easy to finish before the deadline. Instead, you can inform them that you will have a look at it and will investigate further if it is possible to be done or not. Eventually, if you can do it they will be very happy and if you can’t there will be no disappointment.

Present from one laptop

Make sure to have all your workbooks/workflows and the presentation open and delivered from one laptop to keep the flow and to avoid any interruptions.

General stuff

  • During the catch-up call, make sure that the team isn’t talking to each other because it is very easy to lose focus from the other side of the call
  • Make sure to practice how to move the mouse when you are sharing the screen with the client – everyone tend to move the mouse rapidly around the screen when they are nervous, which makes it very hard to understand what you are pointing at or trying to show
  • Control the clients when they run off the call and start discussing among each other more requirements – make sure to control the call and set their expectations but also make sure not to block the client in a way that can impolite.