Make sure project managers accurately convey your ideas

Creative teams must communicate design solutions to the project manager, who then passes this information to the client. Regulate this flow of information.

This article originally appeared as a Design and Usability Tactics e-newsletter.

By Jim Kukral

Whether you're a Web designer, a usability engineer, or a brand manager, you're an integral cog who works with the rest of the creative team to develop solutions to clients' problems.

Eventually, you must communicate these solutions to your project manager, who is responsible for passing these ideas on to the client. So ask yourself: Are the team's findings communicated as-is, or modified on delivery?

Here's a scenario

The creative team spends an entire weekend researching and performing usability tests on the client's product. It takes numerous hours to collect data and build competitive charts based upon product demographics.

On Monday morning, your team outlines your findings to the project manager. The project manager agrees with your team analysis, and schedules a meeting to outline these findings to the client.

During the client meeting, the project manager only presents half of your team's analysis. By only presenting 50 percent of the prepared solution, the project manager has disregarded a lot of expert advice from the creative team members.

The possible implications

Design, usability, and branding teams cannot do their jobs effectively if project managers don't heed their expert advice. For example, in the above scenario, the project manager is:

  • Jeopardizing the integrity of the final creative output.
  • Undermining the creative teams' intelligence and authority.

Fix this failure to communicate

Project managers are the vein that keeps the blood flowing between your team and the client. This flow of information should be regulated wisely, but must be kept moving at all times.

The key is finding a way to control the information. As a creative team member, your goal should be to make sure the project manager presents your information as the team prepared it. Keep in mind these three possible ways to make that happen:

  • Get sign off: Request that your project manager sign off on the information you provide. Stipulate that the manager's signature means that he or she will be presenting the information in an unmodified form.
  • Have a "sit down": Sometimes project managers believe they are just doing what's right for the client, or simply don't understand that they are jeopardizing the project. Arrange an informal meeting to discuss the specifics of interaction and communication.
  • Go above their heads: If nothing else works, you may have to see the boss. Explain the situation, and ask the boss to take action for the sake of the project.

Of course, not all project managers will have trouble relaying your team's ideas. However, if you ever encounter a situation in which your teams' proposed solutions are misconstrued or falsely represented to a client, it won't take long before you start figuring out how that situation won't repeat itself. When it comes down to it, it's your reputation that's on the line.

Jim Kukral has spent the last seven years working in the trenches of Web design, development, and usability for Fortune 500 clients as well as mom-and-pop companies.

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