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The Definitive Guide to Agency Optimization

Call Me, Maybe?: Communication Standards

As with any relationship, communication plays a huge role in project management. Projects can succeed or fail based on how well your team communicates internally and externally.

It’s not unusual for agencies to have different levels of communication with different clients. Some clients may be hard to get ahold of. Some might be actively hostile to regular check-ins. But more often than not, these clients will end up unhappy with the end product.

It’s important to be clear, organized, and upfront with all parties as to how communication will work. Make sure you have standards for communication that apply across your entire client roster.

Here are the different aspects of communication for which your agency should have standards in place:

Client Kickoff

This is the time to set expectations. Here you will cover design, information architecture, UI, and content production, but be sure to go beyond just working out a list of must-have and nice-to-have features. Talk about security, reliability, performance, hosting, and infrastructure. Make sure the client knows what they can expect from you, but also what you expect from them.

Kurt Voelker

Kurt Voelker, VP of Solutions, Forum One

The kickoff is obviously critical because it sets the tone for the project, and the team's relationship with the client. Because of this, we make sure that we're getting the client excited about ideas and possibilities for what we're going to build together really early in the project. This can be tough because there are also a lot of boring logistics and project operations that need to get taken care of while the project is kicking off as well—things like timelines, communication channels, reporting procedures, risk mitigation plans, etc. So, we'll have a small 'project logistics' kickoff with the client Project Manager and Sponsor, but our first real 'kickoff' is with a broader group of client stakeholders where we really dig into goals, vision, and possibility.

Internal Status Meetings

A quick check-in meeting for updates and next steps works wonders to keep a complex project moving. Take a few minutes everyday to connect, avoiding the temptation to turn it into an hour-long chat. Short internal check-ins save a lot of time and stress throughout the project.

Chris Devidal

Chris Devidal, Project Manager, Four Kitchens

Don't be afraid of mistakes. We have a culture where blaming is not allowed, so when something happens we try to learn from it rather than point the finger. Retrospectives are a core element of learning how to do better next time. Caring communication about messups always leads to productive outcomes.

Client Status Meetings

Brief touch-base meetings with the client can keep them posted on your progress and remind them of upcoming deadlines. A regularly updated dashboard or report can help the client feel better about progress, but is no substitute for actual, real-time communication. Consider bringing clients into daily standups as your projects get close to critical milestones.

Suzy Bates

Suzy Bates, Director of Project Management, Four Kitchens

Always engage in open, honest, and regular communication. Talking with the clients every day helps them hear all the bumps in the road and they end up feeling more like team members than customers.

Find new ways to communicate with clients. A "Meeting" isn't the only way to get information from them. Slack, chat, video calls, email, even good ol' fashioned phone calls all work.

Emergency Meetings

Reach out to the client proactively when something goes wrong or is about to go wrong. Talk it out before they miss a deadline, if you have a major question, or if a request is out of scope.

Chris Devidal

Chris Devidal, Project Manager, Four Kitchens

Don't sit on bad news. Seriously, tell them early, tell them now. Clients are mad if they find out they could have known earlier.

PM Software

Services like Asana, Basecamp, and Wrike all make it easier to see what’s due next and who owns what, as well as serving as a repository for resources and assets. Ideally, your agency should have one preferred method of project management that clients must agree to use.

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