If you find yourself in a situation where the client has pulled the plug on whatever project you’re working on in a consulting capacity for them you’re not likely to want to just write it off. It’s not in our character as project managers to easily take ‘no’ (or in this case ‘no more’) for an answer - especially if they’ve left any glimmer of hope that they might consider resurrecting it.
From my experience – and I’ve had a couple of these – you want to do everything you can to try to keep the momentum going. For me, that is usually narrowed down to three key activities. First, of course, you want to maintain contact. Second, if outstanding issues are what caused the work stoppage, then you should consider working on the resolution of those issues – especially if they were your issues and you can continue to work them without the customer. Third, you should look for new services or opportunities to offer the client should the work start up again.
Let’s look at each of these in more detail…
Let's consider the first option of maintaining contact. I've had two situations where projects paused or were will put on hold for various reasons and the best thing I could do was to maintain contact during the long stretch of no activity. This keeps the customer engaged and allows them to know you're still interested in working with them. It also gives them the perception that you’re proactively seeking them out and that you’re possibly working on any outstanding problems that may have caused the stoppage in the first place (we’ll get to that topic next).
What you don’t want to do is to let any significant amount of time pass with no contact with this client – you don’t want the case to go cold. If the relationship ended – or paused – on a positive note, then they need to remember you and it’s your job to make sure that happens. And you never know when one of those periodic contacts will result in a project restart or new work with that same client.
Work on issue resolution
The second key activity to perform during a project work stoppage is to continue work on the very issues that caused the work stoppage in the first place – if applicable.
While you’re maintaining period contact with the client, it could be extremely beneficial if you can also give them an update on progress you’ve made to solve any outstanding issues that you were working on previously. That will say a lot to them about what type of dedicated project manager you are and how serious you are about wanting to fix the problem and continue the relationship.
I was working for an organization where I had taken over a project that was experiencing mounting technical issues. It seemed like every time we resolved one or two issues, a new one popped up. My team and I were occasionally making progress, but it was painstakingly slow…and expensive. Finally, the client put the project on hold – stopping just short of canceling it. I maintained contact throughout the stoppage and continued to work on some of the outstanding issues. Eventually, enough time had passed and I severed my ties with the vendor organization. When the client was ready to resume work, they went with a different vendor because they weren’t interested in continuing to work with the original vendor as I was no longer going to be part of the project. They saw me as the only positive in that whole early phase of the issue-laden project and I’ve since done additional work in another capacity with that particular client. Maintain contact, and keep working to make progress on the customer issues. They will value your persistence in the long run.
Identify new services to offer
The third key activity is to come up with some new services to offer the client. If you can offer them something new that may be of value to their organization, this might kick start additional work with them and it may help resurrect the previous engagement. By giving them something new to think about you’ve not only given yourself a good excuse to continue maintaining contact with them, but you’ve also given them something new to think about. They’re more likely to stick with you going forward and hopefully more likely to jump-start the stalled engagement again. By doing this, you've now put yourself in a much better position to maintain a long-term relationship with this client.