Five Tips for Better A/E Client Relationships
Updated: Apr 19
About the author: Don Archibeque is a Project Executive with Planifi, bringing more than 25 years of experience in construction and A/E (architecture and engineering) Project Management, as well as associated professional managerial services.
I’ve spent over 25 years in architecture and engineering (A/E) project management. Over the years, I’ve been an A/E project manager and an owner’s rep, and have managed the project management practice at a 300-person firm. Throughout that time, I’ve learned many things, but one of the most important is this:
Effective relationship management is the cornerstone for successful project management.
Architecture and Engineering (A/E) Project Managers are the tip of the spear for your client relationships. They are your marketers, your brand representatives, your salespeople, and your project delivery leads. Project Managers are critical to the success of every A/E firm. However, they are almost always, architects or engineers at heart. Project Managers rarely receive formal training when it comes to client management, sales, etc. That’s why I’ve written this post on how A/E Project Managers can improve client management.
Be a Resource
The services firms have long relied upon as their core business are becoming commoditized. In order to differentiate your firm, and earn higher margins, go beyond the client/vendor relationship. Be a resource to your clients. Engage with your clients regularly, offer expertise, and go beyond what’s expected. Before long you will become a trusted advisor. Building relationships takes time, especially with new clients, but it will establish your firm as a partner and earn recurring business in years to come.
Great communication is the cornerstone of building trust. It is easy to get tunnel vision during the design process and drop the ball on client communication. Talk to your clients and update them on what’s going on and what’s happening on a regular basis. Regular situation reports can bring potential problems to the surface earlier in the process. This shows you’re committed to client satisfaction with the final product while eliminating wasted effort on design work the client doesn’t want. Improve profitability and client satisfaction at the same time!
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Align and Simplify
How does your design respond to the client’s scope, schedule, and budget expectations? Communicating your design intent to clients in a language they can understand is essential to effective relationship management and building trust. Simplify the complex. Translating technical jargon into language a lay person can understand is a valuable skill and often one overlooked by many A/E professionals. This will you earn trust and respect from your clients while maintaining your project’s scope, schedule, and budget.
Regularly communicate, in a direct manner and with respect. When the project is going well, both you and client will be happy to talk and provide updates. Well, how about when trouble comes? Proactively communicate and address problems. This is a difficult and uncomfortable skill to learn, but, no matter how good you are as a PM, conflict resolution is a critical skill for successful relationship management.
The new world of design and construction is all about change management. The most successful project teams are agile and equipped to respond to change, within reason. You must know the scope of work and how far you can go while still delivering a profitable result for the firm. Your clients will ask the impossible, they will push for more. Be respectful, don’t procrastinate, and simplify the facts. Often, PMs make the mistake of waiting until the end of a billing cycle or design phase to propose a change order. This is a recipe for disaster and un-does all the hard work of building trust done to that point. A candid, timely discussion around scope and proposed changes builds trust and respect. The ability to communicate what is (and what is not) reasonable, and even saying no, is an invaluable skill. It will lead to better relationships, less stress, and more successful project delivery.
Interested in learning how Planifi software can help your firm improve project management? Align with your project managers, increase utilization, and achieve higher profitability by scheduling a call today!