Side Notes: Client listening

Client listening is an aspect of metaphysical project management tied to the science of planning. Listening is a process of extraction. For example, extracting data from the client’s requirements for the project plan demands the ability for project managers to listen effectively. Listening is reciprocal; a good project manager must instantly verify that he or she has heard correctly.

As a boy growing up on a farm, you learn to listen intently; to instructions, to faint sounds from missing animals, to the cows escaping over the road because the gate has been left open. Listening is a communication activity that receives the least attention in modern day schools and universities, explains both, K.G Wacker and K. Hawkins – “Curricula comparison for classes in listening”, 1995.
The science part of listening in planning is sound. Sound conveys amongst other things, perception and intention (metaphysical properties).

Client listening is an activity that goes largely unmentioned in PMBOK. There is a perception of time, for example, that is conveyed in sound. This is not mentioned in the project time management section of PMBOK. Learning about time in sound will tell you about distance, about depth and give you an idea of past, present and future (a dense topic). Listening contains far too many activities to be fully discussed here, but ultimately it is responsible for a project’s success. It is an activity that, if allowed to continue along its current course of erosion, will cause more and more projects to fail. There are so many of us who do not really listen, and on this failing GSM telecommunications portal project, no one was listening.

One of the biggest problems within every project in the world today is the inability to really listening. Businesses are not actively listening to their clients, the Board are not listening to their Directors, Team leaders are not listening to their teams, and Project Managers are not listening to their projects. I deliberately forced the Board for a travel budget because this portal project demanded I listen to my multicultural team – in person. S. Timm and B.L Schroeder, International Journal of Listening, 14, 109-128, 2000, training in listening and nonverbal communication influences multicultural sensitivity.

On this GSM telecommunications portal project, not being able to listen to one another was a disaster. It caused a lot of infighting. Restoring order to the chaos is almost impossible, because the people not listening also cover the ears of others to stop them from listening (even to their own needs). I realised very early on that what the client wanted was not what was “documented” by the previous leaders of this GSM telecommunications portal project. They had documented something different, and were, at the taskforce meetings, ramming down the client’s throats what they believed the client needed … covering “the ears of others to stop them from listening”.

Unfortunately, the client is not totally blameless. They too need to listen. They need to listen out for when their needs are being supplanted, so as not to become lost and confused. Part of the problem for everyone (the project stakeholders) is that all of us employ filters. Depending on the different types of filters Clients, Consultants, Developers, Directors, and Project managers employ, depends on how we listen. Each individual employs a different set of filters to listen. Examples of these filters can be described as; Culture, language, customs, education, expectations, beliefs, etc. Very few of us are conscious about how we employ these filters for listening.

When I took the GSM telecommunications portal project team to climb Mount Sljeme, one of the reasons was to reset the project team’s listening abilities. When you take time to stand atop some of the highest mountains in the world, as I do; the peace at the top, the clarity, the sheer magnitude of the silence resets your listening abilities. I have no idea why institutions do not teach real listening in education – but it is a too valuable a tool to lose. Listening helps pinpoint issues that are not so easy to find. They allow you to directly probe the undercurrents of a project that looks good on the surface, but beneath it bubbles trouble.

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