One thing you can be certain of as a project manager is that things will change. What can you do when you find that the team you’ve been working with at your client is being moved to another project? The first thing you need to do is bring the new team up to speed, and fast. The following six steps will help you do that within just a matter of weeks.
Do you remember the last “dog and pony show” you attended? The expression itself was coined in the late 19thcentury and referred to small circuses that traveled through rural US towns to entertain crowds with trained dogs and pony acts. These days, we use the expression to refer to an over-staged production or presentation intended to sway opinion.
Corporate environments are often the backdrop for a dog and pony show, and if you’ve worked in one for any length of time, you’ve seen your fair share of them. Sales teams are especially proficient at filling a room with potential clients who want to watch a carefully orchestrated presentation worthy of an Oscar. And the award goes to…anyone who signs on the dotted line!
Is there something project managers can learn from these sales circus professionals? You better believe it. There is a time and place to hold your own dog and pony shows with clients.
When Should a Project Manager Hold a Dog and Pony Show?
The client was a good client. Actually, the client was great, for they generated more than 50% of our company’s revenue. The relationship was solid. Internally, however, they were extremely volatile. You could count on a substantial shift in their management and/or resources twice a year.
Six months was just the right amount of time for our project manager to bring an entirely new team up to speed. But just as soon as everyone said “Ah, I get it,” a new team and/or managers were put into place. This went on for years.
It was like starting from scratch every time a shift occurred. Of course, the new team would want to know the who, what, why, where, and when of the projects and processes that were implemented. They wanted to know if there was a better way to do things, and very often couldn’t understand the billing arrangement and terms that had been set up.
Eventually, it occurred to the project manager that every new team needed a dog and pony show. Rather than field a million one-off questions, why not get everyone in the room at the same time, spend a couple of hours together and bring everyone up to speed? That’s exactly what we did. We took a queue from our compatriots in Sales and put on a show to beat the band.
It worked. The six-month window of questions and reviewing systems and processes was narrowed down to a couple of weeks, allowing everyone to get on with the work at hand with a solid foundation underfoot.
How to Put on a Dog and Pony Show
Here are the basic steps to conducting a dog and pony show:
- Step 1 – Come up with a Standard Presentation. The first thing you want to do is pull together a standard presentation that outlines your relationship with the client. It should answer the who, what, why, where, and when of how the two companies work together. Incorporate a brief history of how you came together, the needs that were being addressed, the original team that brought you onboard, and other relevant details.When do you work on this presentation? When you don’t need it. In our example, if you know that within six months there will be another internal shift, take the time to pull it together during months two to four. This will give you plenty of time to create a phenomenal and well-thought out presentation. Append the presentation as necessary, and you’ll be ready to put on your dog and pony show within one day of the inevitable shift.
- Step 2 – Create a Timeline of Progress. A standalone timeline of progress is something you should maintain on a regular basis. It has a horizontal bar that represents time moving from left to right, and it can represent months or quarters. Then, include brief indicators of projects that were completed or pivotal meetings or decisions that occurred and when they happened.This visual representation of an account’s history shows progress, momentum, and will answer a lot of questions before they are asked. It’s important to have a timeline of progress before you think you need it because it can also be used as a standalone document to quickly sum up the account for a new executive. However, it should also be a key component of a bigger, standard presentation as described earlier.
- Step 3 – Be Pre-Emptive. It’s up to you to schedule a meeting and pull everyone together. New managers or teams may have never heard of you or your company. You can sit back and wait until they stumble across you, or you can take the steps necessary to introduce yourself.Don’t wait for them—preemptively make this meeting happen. Introduce yourself and let them know what your company does for their company. Let them know you’re sure they will have a number of questions that you’ll be glad to answer. Find a time that is convenient for them and their team and then schedule a meeting, preferably within a couple of weeks of the shift.
- Step 4 – Bring Them to Your Place. You may be the only project manager onsite at the client’s location, and really the only contact between your and their company. What’s good about this arrangement is that it funnels everything through one primary contact. But, you also want them to know there are a larger organization and group of people supporting them behind the scenes.To that end, set up a field trip to your office for as many people involved in daily operations as possible. Give them a tour of the office and let them meet the managers and people responsible for supporting the account. Schedule a meet-and-greet time with your executive team so that they can reaffirm their commitment to the account.If your office is located in a different city, you can still make it happen. Granted, it may be a smaller contingent of people from their side, but this will also give you an idea of their level of commitment to your company.
- Step 5 – Make Sure They Understand the Billing Structure. One area that confuses many people during times of transition is how your company is paid. This is such an important area that it warrants a separate meeting.Find out who is responsible for approving and paying bills. Meet with them and make sure they understand your billing system. Also, you’ll want to know if there are any changes in the way they approve or pay invoices. This new team may require more documentation than the previous team.
- Step 6 – Help Them Understand What Support is Available. Make sure all the relevant stakeholders on the new team know what support mechanisms are available.Do you have a ticket system where people can log issues? Make sure everyone has been set up by a user.Does everyone have your contact information, including how to reach you during off-hours? Better yet, provide them with the 800 number to the after-hours support system. This will make sure issues are routed to the right person and time is not wasted.
Your goal should be to have all of these meetings, conversations, and connections made within two to three weeks and absolutely no longer than a month. It will raise their level of confidence in you and your organization. Plus, you’ll now have plenty of time to update your presentation for the next transition!