PLACE Designers | Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain

One of the difficult challenges that we consultants face, whether we be engineers, architects, or other service providers, is identifying the actual client.  Why is this a challenge, you may ask?

Many development organizations will delegate the responsibility of sourcing and directing architectural or engineering services to a project manager or client representative.  This client representative is essentially a middleman, charged with relaying the client needs to the consultant, and the consultant feedback to the client.  With any middleman, communication can lose its quality and conflicting agendas can creep in.

The consultant may work closely with the client representative to meet all the requirements conveyed to them by the representative, only to find that the client (who is cutting the check) is not satisfied.  The client representative may not have understood what his/her boss wanted, or they may not have communicated it effectively.  Who is harmed?  The consultant.

Sometimes the consultant does not even know this person exists until the payment on the invoice is late.  Other times, the fact that there is a middleman is known, but access to the true client is blocked by the client organization.

These are difficult and challenging projects if this sort of situation arises.  The consultant is well advised to document carefully all direction they receive in order to be able to explain the process used to create the work product and demonstrate that they followed direction.  However if this evidence is ever needed, it is too late to come to a satisfying resolution.

The client representative is not incentivized to defend the consultant if the true client (the boss) is not happy.  The options are to take the blame for the miscommunication or blame the consultant.  Which do you think happens?  The consultant takes the fall.

What is the morale of the story?  If at all possible, try to keep the true client (an individual at the highest level of the client organization) appraised of all progress.  Communicate frequently and well.  Document well.  Try to determine if the client representative has the authority to direct the work.  Make sure you feel that the direction you receive makes sense and is in the client’s best interest.  If you feel like the direction is off track stop and dig deeper before going down a poorly thought out path. And hope for the best!

More to come soon.  If you want to get in touch please let me know!  Thanks for reading!



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