You Want What?!

You Want What?!

3 Things Not to Say to Your Project Client

There is steering your project customer down the right path and then there is offending your client by over-reacting or over-correcting. The project manager and team need to act professionally, and walk into each project engagement with an open mind and ready ears to listen to the customer. With that in mind, I’d like to discuss the top 3 things that I consider as phrases or responses that should never be spoken to the project client. There is always a better, more positive response than these below…

We can’t do that! Also known as, “We can’t fix that.” It can always be done somehow, and it can always be fixed somehow. It just might not be able to be done or fixed the way your project client is asking you to do it or the way you originally planned to do it. But it can always be done – or some workaround can be implemented. Always. So, there is no benefit in exclaiming to the customer, “We can’t do that!” Tell them you appreciate their input on the issue and that you and your team need some time to analyze and conceptualize the best solution. Then, you can come back to them ASAP with a plan.

Oh no! Never exclaim concerning phrases like “Oh no!” out loud in the presences of the project customer when you are onsite with the customer. I had a lead developer who kept doing this – most of the time because he didn’t fully understand what he was doing… not so much because there was really a problem. It got to the point that he either had to stop or I had to remove him from the project. Thankfully, I was able to get him to tone it down as it would have been difficult and expensive to get someone else up to speed at that point of the project. However, he was gone from the company after that project.

That’s out of scope! A request or a fix may be out of scope, but before you say anything to the project customer concerning changes you suspect may be outside of the planned requirements for the project, you need to discuss it with your project team and verify that it is out of scope – at least as far as you are concerned. After you have confirmed this, go to the project client with a proposed change order and information to back up that it is, indeed, out of scope…because if there is a question at all, you will get pushback from the project client.


These are three things that I’ve personally experienced and that come up commonly on projects, that I would recommend avoiding. As an experienced project manager, I’ve learned to handle customer communication in these situations, and I know it can really work in your favor to keep the project client confident in your ability to deliver successfully on the project. Look and act like the leader you are; communicate thoughtfully, efficiently, and quickly with the team and the customer; and resolve these situations rather than causing immediate pushback with the customer. No one wins when you react negatively with the project customer. There is almost always a better, positive response.

How about you? What are your top things not to say to your project client? What has been your experience with the wrong things being said to the project client by one of your team members or perhaps even from your own mouth?

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