Aunty Entity #11: The Project Manager’s Dilemma
Dear Aunty Entity
I recently started with a new client on a project. As well as normal project management duties I attend at least two hourly client meetings a week and spend as much time again on the phone. As the project is potentially a long-term one I can see a lot of unpaid hours stacking up already. How much can I charge back as a project manager and do you have any tips on how I should present these to the client?
Dear Mr Eric
Whatever made you think that meetings and phone calls are not part of a project manager’s duties? Unless you have agreed to a fixed fee, billable time can be defined as any task you undertake for a client as part of the project. For instance, if you attend a meeting at a client’s request it is perfectly fine to charge for this. Phone calls and email communication are necessary and time-consuming co-ordination tasks relating to your job as are tasks such as archiving and filing.
When billing time comes, itemizing tasks on your invoice will help the client understand what they are being charged for — these will also illustrate that you follow processes in managing your client projects.
However, thought should be given task descriptions. Charging for dry-cleaning and subway order pickup is probably a tad much for many clients to swallow.
Meetings: a project manager’s guide
It’s Monday morning at 8am and it’s only 2 hours since (delete as applicable):
- You got off a 14 hour flight and spent 45 minutes being strip-searched by Stalin in a skirt and white gloves.
- You got your 2 yr old off to sleep after 8 hours, 24 minutes and 5 seconds of non-stop shrieking which had next door calling the social services
- You stopped puking sufficiently from gastrointestinal bug you picked up Thursday, to have a shower and put on a suit
- You woke up under a bar 25k from your home town and found cigarette butts in your ears ….. only to find/remember/be told you have been booked into a project meeting in 15 minutes
A guide to participants
- Clients: Generally these are the guys with the money. While most of them are wise to suppliers overtly sucking up to them, trashing their abilities, ideas or making snide comments about their hair or shoes is a bad career/invoicing opportunities move.
- Colleagues: These are the people you work with. Depending on their job title they can really make or break your day. Recommend treating as participant 1.
- Blamestormers: Usually found in project meetings when something has gone wrong. Like to divert attention from their own uselessness by drawing attention to the inadequacies of other team members, suppliers, the budget, the brief or even client haircut. Try and sit as far away from them as possible once identified.
- Pixel pushers: Will labor over the most fatuous of details for hours. Bad news if they are your boss or the client. There was a widely documented example in Sheffield, UK in 1995 where a Mrs Celia Smith managed to string out a brochure copy meeting to stretch 2 years, 3 months and 27 days, after which the project was dropped as the publisher had decided to switch to online media.
- Jobsworths: Usually identified once task allocation begins. It’s not their job to do their job so they will happily argue for 2.5 hours to avoid 15 minutes of extra work
- The Bulldozer: Favored method of negotiation is to talk louder and louder over meeting participants to get his/her point across. You get the feeling that if the building was on fire they’d be the first ones stomping on your head to get to the emergency exit
- Yes-people: Usually identified once decisions are being made. Will agree to anything along with the majority even if they don’t understand. One now-famous yes-man was surprised to find he’d signed the deeds to his house over to a camel with a foot fetish if he missed the first project milestone.
- Developers: Sometimes very vocal if technical or functionality changes are discussed. Tread carefully unless you understand the finer intricacies of code. Can often be identified by coffee cups displaying witty coding ‘in-jokes’ or frontal shots of Lara Croft.
- Creatives: Sometimes legends in the workplace, often legends in their own living room. Like developers, handle with care. Experience tells me that the more senior they are the more likely they are to operate on a short fuse. Could be amusing or a nightmare to watch depending on the level of your hangover.
- 404s: The ones with the vacant expressions on their faces for no good reason. 404s could fall into any category so identify with care. If 404s are unusually good-looking, expensively dressed or are related to the client/boss then their reason for being should remain unquestioned.
Best excuses for missing a deadline:
- My goldfish died
- I consulted my astrologist this morning and she said: ‘do not deliver the project today or else the cosmos will realign with malevolent forces’
- A horde of locusts descended on my laptop yesterday where the site was stored and ate it. I didn’t have a backup copy
- I only woke up from a 24 day coma this morning
- I went to the beach instead
- Your project? I have more important clients than YOU
- Aliens have invaded my body. They did not tell me about a deadline
- I made you brownies instead – these ones have real chocolate chips in
- Are you sure you have the right person?
- Deadline? What deadline?