As we continue to explore Project Management in an Agency Model, we’ve reviewed the various opportunities for project managers in this model and we’ve also talked about what it means to “manage the experience”. In this installment, we’ll discuss the importance of Knowing the Business as a way to further leverage the agency model to further the interests of your clients, your firm and your own career.
If your firm focuses on a specific vertical, you have an advantage in that you’ll be able to gain industry knowledge, valuable to your client, as your career progresses. Apart from what you’ll learn on your projects and by talking to your clients, there are some other things you can do to learn your client’s business:
- Talk to your Sales and/or Account Management teams on a regular basis. Ask lots of questions and learn as much as you can, not only about the current business climate in your clients’ vertical, but any anticipated changes, trends or …
- Get the names of any good industry blogs read by your clients or by your Sales and/or Account Management teams. Also, find out if there are any trade publications, particularly that focus on the application of current and new technologies to your client’s existing business.
- Find any books or primers that discuss your clients’ business – again, where possible, focusing on the application of current technologies to overcome existing or potential barriers to your clients’ continued success.
- Get active in the community. Are there any SIGs (special interest groups) in your city that focus on your clients’ vertical? These are not only good ways to expand your knowledge, but also to network and get to know others in your PM community
- Talk to your colleagues. You can benefit from the experiences of those who’ve been with your firm longer than you. You can also benefit from getting fresh perspectives from new hires. Finally, you can exchange thoughts and ideas with your colleagues on a regular basis, whether formally or informally.
For those of us whose firms perform work across multiple verticals, knowing the business is more of a challenge. The best thing you can do for yourself in this model is to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” By this, I mean developing a way to come into a new industry and figure out what’s what. This is fairly typical in project management anyway, as we oftentimes find ourselves having to quickly become “experts” in aspects of our clients’ business that are new to us.
- Seek to understand and ask relevant questions. Your focus should be to understand the business context and business impact of all aspects of the project. You’re there to partner with your client to ensure they solve their problem(s) as efficiently and pragmatically as possible, within the guidelines of the project statement of work. Make it a point of pride to admit that you don’t know, then find out.
- If you find that asking certain general questions net positive results, write the questions down and develop a repeatable framework.
- Leverage your general experiences. The one thing that every engagement has in common is people, and people tend to generally behave the same in most circumstances. Understanding your client’s motivation (both stated and unstated) is also key and can be gleaned from what you observe, based on what you’ve experienced in the past.
- Listen to what your peers, colleagues and customers have to say.
While you can’t know everything about every business, you can learn how to learn. That’s the essence of consulting and is very often the case with project management. The best way that you can earn the role of ‘trusted advisors’ to your clients is by understanding the unique nature of their business and the challenges that they face, organizationally, operationally and technologically. Your ability to leverage your firms capabilities to address your client’s business problems, delivered with your own ability to think creatively, collaborate and to advise your clients on how they can partner with your firm to give them a competitive advantage is the greatest contribution you can make to your clients, your firm and to your own career.
© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese