If you are experiencing unproductive disagreements, dissatisfied stakeholders, finger pointing, and misunderstood roles and responsibilities, look to your engagement management (EM) process.
All projects are engagements among project managers, performers, clients, sponsors, functional managers, and “customer care” people in sales and support roles. Whether you are in an organization providing contracted services or you are managing in-house projects with clients in your same organization, if you manage a project without managing the engagement, you are likely to fail to satisfy stakeholders, even if your project achieves its objectives.
This article describes engagement management and the critical importance of collaboration and the clarity of roles, responsibilities and objectives to ensure that stakeholders are satisfied:
- Clients are satisfied because their expectations are met – what you promised, what they bought, what they need, and what you deliver match up.
- Sponsors are satisfied because there is value to the organization, desired benefits are realized at an acceptable and expected cost
- Performers and managers are satisfied when they are not overburdened by impossible demands, unnecessary bureaucracy, unhealthy relationships, and poor working conditions
- Regulators, accountants, attorneys, procurement specialists are satisfied when their views are respected and rules, protocols, and regulations are followed
The Engagement Management Process
Wise service industry organizations formally recognize the engagement management process with pre-sales, sales, performance (projects and services), relationship management, and support functions as part of an overall engagement.
For example, a typical service organization has the following functions involved in each engagement
- sales and marketing to attract and ‘close’ clients
- engagement management to oversee and coordinate
- delivery to manage and perform projects
- functional managers and staff to provide resources and expertise
- procurement to find vendors, negotiate, and manage contracts
- legal to make sure that contracts are clear, valid, and satisfy needs of the parties
- quality management to make sure what is delivered is acceptable
- customer service to manage the relationship, maintain communications, and provide support, before, during and after the project
- administration and finance for accounting, billing, reporting and other services.
Roles and Responsibilities
Roles and responsibility assignments vary depending on organization structure and the relationship between the client and the providers. The structure and degree of formality of the process depends on the stakeholders’ legal relationship. If they are in separate corporations, procurement, accounting, and legal issues must be formal and precise to avoid unnecessary conflict and better manage the conflict that does arise.
When the providers are in-house, there is a similar need for clear understanding among the stakeholders. Though, since there are no legal requirements, it takes greater discipline to follow best practice standards that manage disagreements and unmet expectations. Legal and procurement professionals may have no involvement but someone (the PM, a PMO, or a quality management group) needs to make sure that agreements are clearly documented, and decisions are made with objectivity.
Whether in-house or not, a project manager (PM) may play multiple roles. For example, sometimes the PM provides customer support and sometimes business analysts, salespeople, or customer service specialists play this role. Sometimes the PM is the engagement manager.
The Engagement Manager
Everyone should be clear about who is doing what, who has final authority, what reporting is required, and how decisions will be made – majority, consensus, authority.
Holding the engagement together is an engagement manager, who may be managing a portfolio of accounts with multiple projects and is responsible for making sure the clients are happy and the contributors to the engagement are playing together nicely.
Whether the client and provider are in the same organization or not, there is a similar need for attracting and closing realistic deals, establishing and performing a project, maintaining healthy stakeholder relations, and following up with support.
The Engagement manager makes sure all engagement functions are assigned, coordinated, and well performed, and that the expectations of all parties, including performers and executive sponsors in both provider and client organizations are managed.
The Sales Role
The sales role is as important when the project is in-house as it is in vendor situations. Though in-house engagements often fail to recognize the need for a sales role. Some of the in-house sales work, performed by “champions,” evangelists, or advocates, may be to promote project ideas and “sell” sponsors and clients on an in-house solution over vendor alternatives.
The sales function often leads when it comes to setting client and sponsor expectations and pricing, though these must be influenced by project constraints and costs.
Effective engagement management (EM) avoids a disconnect between the people who set client expectations (sales)and the project and support people charged with delivering the results. A well-defined EM process will ensure input from delivery and a decision by engagement management or sponsors as to the final deal. Salespeople are most effective for the organization when they are compensated based on the profitability of their sales.
Consultative selling ensures that both the client and provider understand the client’s needs. Collaborative selling involves delivery experts in the process of defining and pricing the work.
What You Can Do
Engagement management is both necessary and complex. If you are experiencing dissatisfied stakeholders and lots of useless and avoidable conflicts, it is likely that your engagement management process needs to be assessed and improved.
The first question to ask is “Do we have a defined process?” There is always a process, but if it isn’t defined, roles and responsibilities are likely to be unclear and some functions may not be performed well or at all.
For example, if customer service and engagement management functions are not identified and assigned, responsibility defaults to the PM. If the PM is aware of the needs and has the necessary competency, all will be well. But if the PM expects someone else to handle the relationships and accountabilities, and no one picks up the work, there will be trouble – arguments, dissatisfaction, etc.
To avoid trouble, whether you are part of a contractor firm or an in-house service department, step back, assess and define your process. You can do this for a single project, but it is better if it is done on a broader scale. It requires involvement and buy-in from all the stakeholders in the sales, customer service, and performance organization.