Dave Strong, CTF & Jerry Mings, CPF, CTF

Building and maintaining a positive client relationship involves taking the time to work with a client to develop a shared understanding of what is required for a successful facilitated event or series of events. A facilitator brings a careful eye to how to build a constructive experience for the group and the advice the client requires to support the group through the event journey. For the client, the journey starts with the idea of bringing a group together to tackle a question or a series of questions. For the facilitator, the journey starts with their first contact with the client. Working with the client, building an effective project plan (ICA Associates Inc., 2014, p. 10) is the key to the successful event.
A well-managed project is the foundation of a positive relationship that can lead to future engagements with the client or through referrals. In this article, we will share a series of tips to consider when you build, maintain and evaluate your next project plan. For each topic, we will provide a brief description, why these elements are important and one or two tips. We will tackle the topic of project management in two parts. This month we will discuss defining the scope of work, building a meaningful contract, creating a practical schedule of events and defining a positive working relationship.

1.Defining the Scope of Work

The early stages of a project will require a conversation, or series of conversations, with the client to identify what is required by the facilitator and the group to help the client with their question. This stage of the process could involve an hour or several hours to define and clarify the requirements of the client.
This stage of the process is important for the following three reasons. First, this is the stage when the scope, timing, and requirements of the overall project can be clarified. Second, the client and the facilitator can determine if they can work together on the project (e.g., is the facilitator the right fit for the project). Finally, it is important to identify the outputs (deliverables) and impact of the work for the client and the group.
When defining the scope of work, consider the following tips for success:

  • Have questions prepared to guide the discussion in
  • Capture the client’s answers in their own words. Often what we think we’ve heard, or not heard, can be differ from what the client actually said. Having the client comments in their own words can be helpful when discerning the Rational and Experiential Aims.
  • Confirm what you have heard from the client in writing.
  • Determine if anything is missing or requires clarification.
  • Consider using the ToP Design Eye to guide your conversation.
  • Create a Project Charter to summarize the project. written summary of the project. A Project Charter that summarizes the plan is very helpful.

2. Building a Meaningful Contract

A contract is an important document when building a project plan. It provides a clear statement of what must be completed, who will be responsible, time frame for the work, methods, and timing of payment, and how the contract will end.
A well-crafted contract is an important tool in the project management process for two reasons. First, it provides a written record of what has been agreed to be done and outlines the responsibilities of the parties. Secondly, it provides a framework that will be used address changes in the scope of the work and the methodology for dispute resolution.
When creating or signing a contract, consider the following tips for success:

  • Create a standard agreement that will be used with all clients where you are given the option to present a contract. It is important this agreement be written in plain language that is clear to the average reader and does not use ambiguous terminology. You may wish to have your initial agreement reviewed by a lawyer to make sure you have created a contract that is comprehensive and enforceable.
  • If you are presented with a contract to be signed by your client make certain that you are clear on every clause and discuss what each section means to the client. If you are not clear or comfortable with any clause, you should seek legal counsel to make sure you are not signing a contract that may cause difficulty for you in the future.

    3. Creating a Practical Schedule of Events

The most interesting and yet time-consuming part of the project is creating a timeline or schedule of events. This is the task of figuring out all the activities that are required leading up to a facilitation event or events and all the activities that will be required after the facilitation event(s). Organizing all the activities and putting them on a timeline will require the involvement of the client and others. The others may include the meeting location contact, print production, travel, catering company, etc. The most important part of building a timeline is to make sure everyone involved in the project can see the start, the end and where they are going to be involved.
A schedule of events is important for the following three reasons. First, it is important to confirm that everyone involved in the project has set aside the time to be involved. Second, it provides the client with a clear picture of how people will be involved and the costs associated with each phase of the project. Finally, it is helpful to look for potential bottlenecks in the process and see the implications of a delay or change in an element of the plan on the facilitation event.
When building a schedule of events, consider the following tips for success:

  • Use a tool such as a mind mapping software to support your schedule. Tools such as XMind, and others, have templates that you can use to think through the process and create a clear and visually appealing timeline.
  • Review the timeline with the client and make certain that it is shared with key participants to ensure that it is realistic and fits with the other priorities that may be happening concurrently in their personal and professional lives.

    4. Defining A Positive Working Relationship

A key principle in project management is developing a positive working relationship with the client and everyone who is responsible for making the project a success. It is important to establish a set of principles that will guide the relationship as well as a framework on how to handle differences of opinions and or conflict. The relationship should be supported by a set of practices to make sure the client and all other parties develop a deep understanding of the overall project while respecting the professional expertise everyone brings to the different tasks of the project. Some practices that might be considered include:

  • Regularly scheduled phone calls for updates and input
  • Written updates to the team on the status of the project
  • Formal debriefing session at the end of each phase of the project with lessons learned applied in future phases

Creating and sustaining a positive working relationships is important for the following two reasons. First, the client can experience collaboration and trust building the phases of the project plan, project implementation and project conclusion as examples of what will happen during the facilitation event(s). Second, the relationship demonstrates the level of care the facilitator has for both the group and the client.
When building a positive project management experience for client, consider the following tips for success:

  • Use an online tool to store all written documents that all participants can access. This tool can be as simple as using a cloud storage product such as Dropbox, or it could be a more robust project management tool such as Podio. Whatever you choose to use, make sure the participants are comfortable using it and it’s sufficient to meet the needs of the project.
  • Celebrate key milestones and successes with the client to keep morale high and maintain momentum. Eventful implantation is a critical component of creating and maintaining a positive working relationship.

We will pause here for now. Next month we will continue to explore our topic as we present our thoughts on the importance of agreeing on a framework for resolving disputes, establishing a framework for meaningful evaluation and finishing the project on time.

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