Project Management

Does Your Company Have a System of Engagement?


Fieldwork industry organizations generally have a system of record in place: somewhere to store project information, data, and relevant files.  But what about the other side of the equation, when someone needs to pull information out and use it?

Making information available to internal teams can be a struggle on its own. But sharing information in a useful format becomes even more difficult when requests, such as those for regulatory compliance, land divestiture and contract work, come from external parties. Managers often resort to manual reporting and dissemination of data, which burns valuable hours that could be spent in more profitable ways. This process is frustrating for everyone involved, especially when a crucial piece of information gets lost or goes missing.    

To have value, information must be transparent, easily accessible and understood. Faster understanding means improvements across the board: managers can better plan and execute, executives have what they need to direct and clients gain confidence in the process. A System of Engagement (SoE) is designed for transparency and access; it connects people to the information they need for effective data-driven decision making.

The Importance of Visualization

Maps are uniquely able to convey complex information simply. That's why in Arkit we organize fieldwork visually using project maps. Rather than rows in a spreadsheet, Arkit users navigate to projects through a familiar map-based interface. It's easy for project stakeholders to find the information they need, when the need it, on-demand. Workflows are eased, hours are saved and frustrations reduced. In this way, transparency and access to information go hand-in-hand to drive growth.     

Evolution of Competitive Advantage

Forward-thinking companies are already realizing the advantages of implementing a system of engagement such as Project Relationship Management software.

For more information on how you can go beyond storage and cultivate engagement in your organization to get the most out of your data, visit


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No Surprises: The Right Way to Talk About Project Risk With Your Clients

Daniel Walsh Environment • Consulting • 5 minute read

You might be surprised by the title of this post – after all, assessing and communicating risks is an important part of working in the environmental consulting industry. We often pride ourselves in our ability to accurately determine environmental risks using the latest empirical and modeling techniques, and we’re paid to communicate these results to our clients.

Rather than focusing on environmental risks associated with contaminant releases, incomplete data, or a poorly understood geologic setting – the stock in trade of the environmental consulting industry – I want to talk about “project risks” – risks associated with unforeseen difficulties that cause a project to fall behind schedule, exceed the desired budget, or produce results that are inconclusive or conflict with a client’s business interests. 

Why communicate project risks?

We would all like projects to go as planned. Unfortunately, in the real world, many things can go wrong. In some cases, a new influx of data may contradict earlier findings, necessitating additional data collection and analysis. In other cases, external forces such as regulatory or legal actions may force a change in course.

Since project delays can have financial implications for clients, the ability to communicate project risks effectively is one of the most valuable skills a consultant can cultivate.

There’s another reason to make sure project risks are effectively communicated: to protect the foundation of mutual trust that consultant-client relationships are built upon.

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If a client is taken by surprise by a delay or complication, their trust will be undermined, putting future collaboration at risk. By communicating project risks effectively, consultants can ensure that their clients have an accurate, realistic understanding of what might go wrong so that they are prepared for challenges.

During my time as a communications consultant, I’ve picked up some tips for effective project risk communication. Here are six I’ve found to be particularly useful:

1. Understand your client’s approach to risk

If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re ready to communicate project risks to a client, you’ve probably developed a good understanding of how the client business operates. Make use of that knowledge!

Is the company looking to expand and willing to take risks? Or is it risk averse – not in a good financial or business position to undertake risky projects? The best way to understand your client’s approach to risk is to have a frank conversation early on in your relationship.

2. Communicate risks positively

When explaining project risks to a client, it’s important to frame them in a positive light – if your company completes 80% of projects within the original timeline, that’s good news!

Explain and quantify possible causes for delays, and make sure to highlight why your company is more adept at reducing risks than your competition.

3. Avoid planting false hope

I’ve seen it many times – a client is behind schedule, poorly organized, or encountering some other kind of difficulty. They want a consultant that can make their troubles go away.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much a consultant can do when a company runs into trouble – and, in these cases, the possibility of project failure due to external factors must be realistically considered and communicated to clients during the planning phase. It’s always better to exceed expectations than to fail to meet them.

4. Question you client’s decisions

If your client wants you to conduct your work in a way that you see as high-risk, don’t be afraid to propose well-reasoned alternatives. Consulting is one field where the customer isn’t always right – if they were, they wouldn’t need to hire you!

Pursuing high-risk projects just to please a client and win a contract doesn’t pay off in the long run. Ultimately, you will be seen as more valuable if you are able to provide innovative advice and consistently reduce risk.

5. Keep your client focused on the right risks

Many clients are busy juggling projects, each of which may involve several contractors. The more risks you present, the less likely your client is to pay attention.

To find the right balance, many successful consultants work with their clients to develop a risk communication plan, which provides criteria for deciding which risks should be presented right away which should be monitored by the consultant but not communicated to the client.

6. Use experts to build credibility

As a liaison between your company and your client, you may find yourself discussing project risks outside your area of expertise – and clients can often tell. Using the wrong jargon or failing to understand the culture of a given specialty may undermine your client’s trust.

To avoid coming across as a jack-of-all-trades, involve relevant experts within your company in the risk communication process. Nothing convinces like words spoken by a professional!

Further reading

If you want to dive deeper, take a look at these links for further reading - “Communicating Project Risks” from the Project Management Institute, and “Communicating Risks in Managing Projects” from the Sound Idea Digital Blog.

There’s a lot more to be said about project risk communication, but I hope these six tips got you thinking a bit more about effective strategies, and can help to avoid project surprises, and protect your valuable client relationships.

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How one bird’s nest caused a crisis and taught me the true value of teamwork

Vincent Lam Collaboration • Technology • 3 minute read

I was sitting in a sales meeting with a consulting firm, growing increasingly aware of one of the project managers in the room. Something was up.

Although the meeting was going well, this PM was intently checking his cellphone, perhaps worried, clearly distracted. As the meeting went on, he leapt up several times, quite apologetic, to run out of the room to take urgent calls. 

Maybe the meeting wasn't going so well after wall?

I was curious, and after the meeting had wrapped I asked him had happened. He graciously explained that he'd been alerted to a crisis on one of the construction projects he was managing. Everyone had been forced to stop all work, people were scrambling for answers, and crews and progress were at a standstill. I asked what the problem was. That's when he really surprised me.

"A bird's nest!" he said. 

He told me that the onsite contractors discovered a wild birds nest in the land clearing area, forcing work to stop so the situation could be assessed. His phone had been buzzing and beeping all afternoon, questions coming at him, and he was relaying a constant stream of messages between the contractors and his client.

Everyone was trying to fill in details about the site and pinpoint the exact location of the birds nest, and he was trying to mitigate the situation remotely. On one side, the contractors were idling on the field and costing money hour by hour, on the other side, his client wanted answers and details, and was growing impatient.

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I really felt for him because I've been in that kind of stuck-in-the-middle situation before. It's something I think many project managers have experienced, when you're stretched between different teams and diverging priorities, and trying to align all your information to make the right call. 

At that moment I really understood what a good collaboration tool has to deliver for people, and how important it is. It's about communicating information in the most effective way possible, and breaking down barriers between everyone involved.

A team of professionals faced with a simple birds nest can struggle to communicate without the right process. Can they all visualize where it is on the worksite? Do they all understand the problem? Are the right people being alerted to help make decisions?

In the case of this particular consulting company, I was there talking about Arkit, and the birds nest provided a serendipitous example of exactly how we could help. But if you're just starting out on researching project collaboration tools, there are many affordable SaaS (software-as-a-service) solutions available. Each has a slightly different flavour depending on the industries they are serving, and the specific kinds of tasks being handled.

Don't be afraid of trying a new tool, and don't put it off. My approach would be to get demos for your team and a client or two to see if it would work for the people you work with most. Add a few projects as a test where everyone can access all the information on a real-time basis. Chances are people will be better connected to your project plans, and you'll get more consistent and clear updates on work as it happens.

No more phone tag, no more frantic emails, and no more interrupted meetings. In the end, adopting a simple collaboration tool can have a significant impact on building trust and improving productivity. 

Not even a birds nest will stand in your way!

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How The Best Project Managers Plan for Success

Neal Ellis Project Management • Collaboration • 3 minute read

Sometimes managing projects can seem less like making the trains run on time and more like herding cats through a yarn factory. The best project managers know the secret to delivering projects on time and on budget is striking the right balance between careful planning and flexible execution. We thought we'd pull together seven essential tips to help you plan for success.

1. Strategy before tactics

When planning a project it’s easy to get lost in the details. You are a general planning a huge battle. Before you worry about the details on the ground, you need to figure our the big-picture view of your win. Make sure you have a strategy for accomplishing the goals of the project before you decide what tactics to use. If you focus on the tactics and details first you risk losing sight of the goal, and your planning will begin to cannibalize the time you have to accomplish the project.

2. A written brief is your friend

No matter how detailed the project is in your mind or how thorough your boss’s email was, if you are going to successfully manage something you need to have some parameters in writing. Creating a project brief that includes the scope, the timeline, the budget, and the contingencies or risks (every risk has a cost!) will help keep you and the project on target. If you circulate the brief to any decision makers before starting, you also protect against scope creep or surprises from other layers of management. You'll be better prepared to respond to necessary changes, and able to gently remind others of the original agreed plan.

3. Delegate, don't dictate

You know you can't get the project done all by yourself. That’s not your job. But, the difference between great project managers and everyone else is, great managers support and enable their teams, delegate authority, and don’t just dictate work. When you delegate you are showing your team you trust them and their skills. Give team members their objectives, set strategic level tasks, provide the time and budget targets, and get out of their way.

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4. Create manageable milestones

With work spread over a group of people, or even across multiple teams, it can get difficult to accurately assess the progress of the project. Make sure the entire project is broken up into smaller milestones, and help everyone stay aligned to them. This will create natural times to get reports on progress, spot problems, and monitor the budget. Having several smaller milestones will also help keep your team members motivated because it makes progress more appreciable along the way.

5. Plan for recalibration time

It's one of the cardinal project management rules: nothing ever goes quite as planned. The way the top project managers always keep projects on time and on budget is that during the planning stage they factor in time to correct mistakes and adjust as needed. When circumstances change, having a plan and some resources available will keep things on track, prevent shifting the blame, and truly demonstrate your abilities as a manager.

6. Commit to a 'get to work' date!

Poor planning may be the biggest reason projects fail, but the second biggest reason is over planning. Almost like a law of nature, planning will expand to fill all of the time allotted to it. Going over the details, fine-tuning ideas and generating proposals is important. However, it is also easy to procrastinate and end up wasting time while telling yourself you are just being a thorough planner. Early on in the process, commit to a firm date when you'll begin the execution of the project. 

7. Celebrate the accomplishments

Your team works hard. You work hard. Often during the middle of a large project everyone begins to feel a little weary and to silently wonder if the project is going to work. It's critical to keep yourself and your team motivated by celebrating small accomplishments along the way, not just the end result. This doesn’t mean throwing a large party every week. The mini-celebrations could be as simple as taking a moment to provide a truly thoughtful compliment, ensuring positive feedback is always part of your team meetings, sending an email of appreciation, or taking team members out for a coffee.

After all, it's through continual small moments of achievement that even the biggest projects reach successful completion.

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