How to Prevent Clients Micromanaging Your Projects

Paul Boag

One of the big problems facing agency owners and digital project managers is clients who micromanage. But, if you understand why this micromanaging happens, it is straightforward to prevent.

We have all dealt with others who try to micromanage our work. There are management or other stakeholders who make the lives of in-house teams a misery. Then, of course, there is the day to day pain of dealing with clients when you work as part of an agency.

Whatever our role from designer to project manager, we struggle with others interfering.

Fortunately, we can prevent micromanagement. But, it is only possible if we understand why clients do it in the first place.

Why Clients Micromanage

Many see micromanagement as a personality defect. Something baked into the character of the stakeholder or client. But, although some people have a bias towards micromanaging, it is a trap we can all fall into.

That is because micromanagement is not a behaviourial trait but a symptom. It is caused by anxiety generally born from a feeling of being out of control.

We all like to feel in control, and so people micromanage in an attempt to gain that sense of control. But why do they feel powerless in the first place?

In most cases, this feeling of a lack of control occurs when we do not understand what is happening and why. That is common in digital projects because they are specialised and complex.

To make matters worse, digital projects are becoming increasingly critical to organisational success. That means the cost of failure is high. With these higher stakes comes more anxiety and a greater desire to take control.

Although we may wish that people would trust us to do what needs to be done, that is unreasonable. At least it is unreasonable until the stakeholder or client knows us well. That is why long term clients tend not to micromanage as much.

So the question then arises; how do we give our clients and other stakeholders a sense of control? Also how do we do so while gaining their trust?

How to Create a Sense of Control

Of course, the last thing we want is for our clients and stakeholders to actually control our projects. In truth neither do they. Want they want is to be confident that things are in control and that the project will be successful. The aim is to reassure, rather than hand over power.

We can achieve this aim in three ways:

  • Use a transparent process that the client can see you are following.
  • Give them the ability to see progress for themselves as it happens.
  • Keep the client informed throughout that process.

Let’s delve into these in a bit more depth.

Provide a Clear Process

Many digital teams feel like a black box from the outside. A client input a brief and a website pops out the other end that may or may not meet their expectations.

Development involves too much technobabble for most clients. On the other hand design can look like a lot of pretentious creativity. Neither view inspires confidence in clients.

The view most clients have of our profession does not reassure them or give them confidence in our abilities.

Instead, we need to be able to articulate the process we will be using to clients at the outset of a project. What order do things happen, why is each step necessary and how are decisions made?

By laying out a process from the start and emphasising this is a process that works, you reassure the client. You also let them know what to expect and avoids surprises. You remove the mystery and the uncertainty.

But having a process is not enough. We also need to reassure the client throughout that process that things are on schedule.

Be Transparent about Progress

No project plan survives the real world. Things will change, and we need to reassure our clients that we are in control of those changes. What is more, the client will want to be able to see that things are progressing to feel confident.

This is where your project management platform of choice comes in. Give your client access to this so they can see information relating to the project. They should have access to timelines, work in progress and project communications. Give them access to that black box which will spit out a website at the end.

By giving clients access to a product management tool such as Hive they feel better informed and so more in control.

Tools like Hive are invaluable in this regard. Hive helps your team organise and keep on top of scheduling via its advanced analytics. But just as importantly, it allows the client to see for themselves what is going on.

By opening up a tool like Hive to your clients, you reassure them things are under control. You also build trust because you are being transparent about the project.

I know what you are thinking. You are uncomfortable with a client having access to all that information. Yet, I would argue that this is a price worth paying to avoid the client fretting about progress.

That said, tools like Hive do allow you to restrict what they can access, so you don’t need to open everything up.

But, giving them access is not enough on its own. Many clients and stakeholders are busy people and don’t have the time t0 check what is happening. That is why communication is important too.

Communicate Often and Regularly

I was once flying from London to Austin in Texas and had a short stopover in Dallas. While at Dallas it started to snow and every flight was grounded. While waiting, I was sat opposite the information desks for American Airlines and British Airways.

Outside the British Airways desk, a few people waited patiently to hear the latest update. But, outside the American Airlines desk, there was a crowd of angry passengers.

The difference came down to communication. The American Airlines representative told passengers that she would update them when she had more information. Meanwhile, the British Airways representative came back to passengers every 10 minutes, whether she had any more news or not.

That regular communication from the British Airways representative made passengers feel empowered. Of course, in reality, they had no more information than American Airlines. But they felt like they did.

As web designers, we often only talk with clients when we have something specific to tell or ask them. Weeks can go by when they hear nothing from us, especially if we are working on another project.

In those periods they worry. They worry about whether their project is still on track and whether it is going to be delivered on time.

I know many of us hate email and the phone, but communicating with our clients is a fundamental part of our job. We provide a service, and a part of excellent customer service is communication. It is not only about the final deliverable. Think about how an obnoxious waiter can ruin good food at a restaurant.

Again, project management software can often help with this communication. You can use it to remind you to communicate. But also a tool like Hive has integrated communication features. That helps client conversations getting lost in long email threads.

As Much Micromanagement as We Can Stomach

The lesson to take away is that you can have as much or as little micromanagement in your life as you can stomach. If you are willing to put the effort in, then there is no reason why a client will feel the need to micromanage you. But, if you fail to communicate and ignore their concerns, then they will micromanage.

Stock Photos from ArtFamily/Shutterstock