Don’t force your clients to use project management software

It’s easy to see why project management software exists.

When I started my design career, I was so frustrated when clients wouldn’t read emails, skip steps, or deviate from our design process. I was so excited discovering the world of project management apps — I could finally keep things on track in a structured setting.

In my mind, this was going to make my life much easier and I’d never have to deal with those issues again. It was pretty short-sighted looking back.

What I learned is that while project management apps can help communication, it also can hinder it as well.

Rather than a utopia of beautiful communication, it ended up being more of a struggle. Clients had trouble learning how to use the software. They’d eventually give up and go back to email and phone calls. While I had good intentions, it wasn’t working for them. Emails and phone calls were still the best way to communicate, second to face-to-face meetings.

A common gripe with my clients was having to learn a new system on top of working with our studio. If they were working with multiple vendors who had their own project management software, it became difficult to learn multiple systems.

It made sense too. While we get frustrated with half-baked emails, it’s something everyone intuitively knows how to do. Clients don’t need to learn anything new because it’s such a common system of communication. 

Ultimately, better communication and good tools like checklists or check-ins made the process fly by better. We spent less time troubleshooting how to communicate and were able to spend more time working on the client’s project.

That said, I know some people still like working with project management systems. And they do have their up-side, too. If you’re working with multiple clients on multiple projects, it’s a great way to keep track of progress. If you’re managing a team, it’s a good way to keep tabs on everyone.

It’s also great to have a resource that you can quickly refer to if a client needs to know where things are at. If you’re taking good notes, a quick click can give you an overview of where things are at and what you need from the client. 

One thing that I’ve enjoyed using project management apps for is recording my communications with my client. I made a habit to log everything we talked about in emails, phone calls, and meetings. It saved my butt more than once when things were forgotten or taken out of context. I could go back and recall exactly what was said or agreed upon.

In the end, I realized that I didn’t need the client to log in and use my project management apps. It ended up being a better organization tool for myself. It still played a role in helping me communicate clearer, which was my goal all along.

Clients noticed the difference too. Clearer communication led to more efficient work and ultimately, happier clients and better results.

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