We are over half way on our final project (branding and collateral of the West End Festival) and we have had a few issues along the way. I’m going to have to say that the biggest issue is communication, especially communication with the client. Because we have been having a few issues with communication, I have decided that I will do some research and see if I can work out some effective ways to communicate with clients.
Now, just a quick question to start: what is communication?
It is defined as “the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium.” OR “means of sending or receiving information, such as telephone lines or computers.”
And in terms of business, it is (according to BusinessDictionary.com):
A two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange (encode-decode) information, news, ideas and feelings but also create and share meaning.
From these definitions, I’m getting the idea that it is not only quite important, but it is a vital process in project management. (It’s ok, I did already know this). Throughout our project so far, we have been having problems with communication. Our problems have been with both the client and, in the first week or two, between the two groups.
INTERNAL COMMUNICATION (with team)
I think the main problems with communication between the two groups at the start were because we hadn’t worked together before and had to get used to the way we all worked, but also the way we all communicate – because we all communicate pretty differently. I know for me, whenever I put up a design I’d been working on to get feedback, sometimes I didn’t understand what a group member was meaning (it would be phrased in a different way, or using different terminology to what I’d normally use). At the start when that happened I’d just try and figure out what they meant or get frustrated by it, but the further into the project we got I started asking them to explain a bit more.
So that’s one thing I’ve learned so far – ask for clarification. There’s no point trying to figure it out myself when it’s really easy to just ask another question. It saves a lot of time.
EXTERNAL COMMUNICATION (with client)
I was finding it really hard to communicate with our client. I was sending emails and trying to lay out all the information in an easy and clear way to read. I was asking questions to get feedback on collateral, which design she likes best (providing up to 3 options) and what tasks we should be working on next. And every time the response was short and would only answer one or two of my questions. She also liked all the options and didn’t pick one for us to run with.
So what am I learning here? Firstly, maybe my emails had too much information and I was asking too many questions all at once. If a client is busy and they see a really long email, they may not have the time to sit down and read through it all and answer all the questions. I need to ensure I am asking the most important questions first and for any other questions (that maybe need a bit more time to answer) it might be best to schedule a meeting.
Another area where we might be going wrong is that we are giving her too many options. For example, we came up with a few good options for the posters and she liked all of them but didn’t tell us which one to specifically go with. This might also be a time issue – the client not having enough time to sit down and look at each one – or it could be that the question of which design is the chosen one was not clear she really does like all of them. One article I found useful here was using the 7 C’s of communication. They include:
Keep the message clear, stick to the point, give a solid point (no mistaking what it is), all the right terminology/information, logical and relevant topics, all the information is there and a message that is friendly and honest.
A big mistake we made was assuming that the client understood what our roles were for this project. This caused some major confusion and frustration with the client because we didn’t clarify a key role. The client kept asking and implying that we were to add the content for specific documents but this is not something we have learnt or been taught in our degree so we didn’t have the knowledge to do this. The topic was danced around but not specifically talked about directly to the client until well into the project. We finally let the client know in a clear and concise way and from the client response, we realised it was just a misunderstanding on both our parts. So it is important to be clear upfront what the role we have in each project will be.
Here’s some of the blogs/articles I read about communication: