Communication is usually one of the first things to crack in a client-developer relationship. And when communication goes, the rest of the relationship quickly follows.
Developing great communication between clients and agencies isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s an essential element of a strong client-developer relationship. There are several strategies both clients and developers can use to build it.
Great Communication Is Effective and Essential
Clear communication channels create an environment of trust between enterprises and development agencies that greatly contribute to project outcomes.
When everyone feels able to voice their opinions, it becomes much easier to share different viewpoints and siloed information — “the kind of things that can derail projects if they aren’t put out in the open,” says Denise Beachley, CIO and Partner at Kingsmen Software.
Clear communication also keeps the project aligned and makes delays both less likely (because there’s no delay in sign-off) and easier to overcome. That’s why everyone involved in the project needs to have great communication skills, from executives to developers.
That goes double for anyone working on software development, whether they’re agency-side or in-house. Donnie Flood, co-founder of RightHandGreen and former CTO of Homebound, says communication is the most important skill for developers. While outsiders may think that developers spend all day coding, most of it is actually spent communicating with people across the project.
“It turns out software engineers, like other knowledge-workers, spend a ton of time collaborating across IM, email, reading designs, reviewing code and going to meetings,” Flood writes.
“Our job often involves working across many parts of the company communicating with product management, account management, support, operations, sales, customers and of course with our peers and managers.”
Set the Tone Early for Success
Being upfront about your ideas and intentions makes a big difference. That starts at the very beginning of a project.
“Businesses must create a joint roadmap for success with their clients so that the joint teams can always keep one eye on longer term goals while continuing to work on day-to-day tactical imperatives,” writes Setu Kulkarni, vice president of product management at Venafi.
“Having a commonly held view of the longer term goals creates an environment for having the difficult conversations that often do not happen or take a lot of time and effort when they do.”
A communication schedule should be established early, too. Regular communication ensures clients continue to value your relationship, EY’s Anne Moreau and Celine Rossavik write. A routine check-in — weekly, biweekly, whatever works — ensures regular communication and keeps everyone feeling connected.
“It is important to be proactive, because it demonstrates dedication in the relationship and in the client’s interests,” Moreau and Rossavik write. “This proactivity is closely linked to transparency: being transparent on any change that could impact your client or your quality is also a must-have to build trust between each other.”
Build on Those Good Habits
The proactive tone you set early will help your communication throughout the project. That way, you won’t leave clients waiting for updates when timelines change, for example.
“Always try to take possible roadblocks into account and build in a buffer to ensure your work is delivered on time or ahead of schedule—but sometimes delays can’t be avoided,” writes Scott Baradell, CEO of PR agency Idea Grove. “In those instances, let the client know about a potential timeline shift at the first sign of a delay. This allows them to adjust plans accordingly.”
The honest, transparent tone you set at the beginning of the project will also pay dividends later on. “You always, always, always have to tell your clients like it is,” says Mike Emiliani, a paid marketing manager at Thrasio. “It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got good news or bad news. Tell them what they need to know, and tell them when they need to know it.”
The reason is twofold, he explains. One, someone is paying you a lot of money for a solution, so they deserve to know what is happening. Two, being transparent gives you more long-term security. Not many mistakes get overlooked, so it’s better to get them out in the open early.
One communication misstep isn’t going to derail a project, but a string of communication breakdowns will. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to come to that. With expectations set early, channels established, and a commitment to proactive and transparent communication forged, you’ll have an excellent foundation for project success.