Watermark Learning Blog

partnerships_iStock_000001642205XSmall The power of partnerships is a simple concept that applies to many obvious examples, like business partnerships or marriage. It’s also a key concept that I find myself spending more time on in project management training because of the profound implications it has for projects. You can also find partnership examples and their impact on projects in some not-so-obvious places but with results that are every bit as compelling.

Take a recent trip to the orthodontist, for example. I left the office thinking about what a great experience it was. I know – it’s weird to come out of a medical office feeling…good. Not good as in “I’m without pain,” but good as in “This place is great and am I glad to be part of it!” Of course, I have total confidence in all of the care providers I use for myself and my family, but there’s a je ne sais quoi about this business office.

It occurred to me that there is a fundamental project management best practice going on in that office that distinguishes this establishment as exceptional: Partnership Building.

The orthodontist (I’ll call him Dr. Straight) is effectively the project manager for the project of correcting our son’s teeth. Dr. Straight’s skills in the area of building partnerships are particularly palpable and demonstrate how an astute project manager who develops real partnerships with all stakeholders can create an awesome project environment and great project outcomes.

First, Dr. Straight, is great at partnering with his team. Most professional offices are staff by front office people who are nice and helpful, but Dr. Straight’s office staff is more than that: they always seem so happy to be there. They are consistently pleasant when talking to people in person and on the phone, they never make you feel rushed, and they never make assumptions about what you know or don’t know, they address everyone by name, and make first-time visitors feel like long-time patients.

From a partnership perspective, it’s not their partnership with me that’s remarkable. I think it’s the partnership Dr. Straight has with his team that makes the difference here. I suspect that Dr. Straight treats his team members pretty well. I am going to guess that their treatment of end-users and sponsors reflects how they are treated by the project manager.

Dr. Straight meets the needs of his team and has built partnerships with them. That partnership translates into team member engagement and commitment that results in superior customer service.

Second, Dr. Straight is great at partnering with our son, the end-user. At our first visit, he asked our son what he was looking for from his services. He wanted to know what he thought about his teeth and what he wanted them to look like.

Kids often get dragged around from office to office with lots of things getting done to them. It was refreshing to hear a medical professional address our son directly. But more importantly, it was a powerful way to get buy-in from a key stakeholder! As we say, projects are how organizations adapt to change. Whether we’re talking about an organization or an 11-year-old, the thing about change is that it’s a lot easier when it’s done with you, rather than to you.

Dr. Straight meets the needs of his end-user and has built a partnership with him.  That partnership translates into end-user compliance; the end-user wears his retainer religiously.

Finally, Dr. Straight has been great at partnering with me, the sponsor. He anticipates my needs for communication and understands my biggest concerns. I have never had to ask how much something will cost – it is provided to me in writing as services are being explained. In addition, he is flexible and provides options for funding the project. He also has an escort service that will pick up and drop off our son at school to get him to an appointment.

Dr. Straight has built a partnership with me and that project manager-sponsor partnership is critical. That partnership translates into sponsor confidence and support.

Dr. Straight may not see himself as a project manager, and straightening my son’s teeth may not be a typical project. But the power of building solid partnerships is worth noting in any context, and that’s what distinguishes this “exceptional” office from the other “really good” offices. Many would suggest this is simply about understanding good customer service.  But the best customer service policy carried out by competent people creates a qualitatively different experience for the customer when all stakeholder needs have been heard, understood, and met.

It’s the project management practice of building partnerships with stakeholders that makes this establishment better than others. Good project management is always predicated on the project manager’s ability to understand stakeholders in order to meet their needs. When a project manager has been successful in building partnerships with key stakeholders, it creates a winning project environment you can just “feel.”

Maybe I will see if Dr. Straight and his team are interested in a Lessons Learned session when our son gets his braces off.

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