Two men in hardhats reviewing construction plans at a desk
Process Improvement

How to Successfully Manage Relationships in Complex Projects

Written By: Rob Glover
March 10, 2023
6 min read

When you’re running a complex project, it’s impossible to separate the nurturing of customer and stakeholder relationships from other activities. In a major construction project, project leaders must carefully coordinate internal teams and outside stakeholders alongside materials procurement, budgeting, and scheduling.

Projects on such a large scale are bound to hit bumps in the road, like a sudden snowstorm or faulty equipment. When these delays happen, successful relationship management is the solution. Showing empathy and patience for those involved in the project will motivate them to work through the inevitable issues that come up and move the project forward.

Learn how to avoid breakdowns in communication and keep projects moving forward with these strategies.

Forecast project disruptions to the best of your ability

All projects, from construction to software engineering, are susceptible to disruptions. Before and during a disruption, keep stakeholders up-to-date to reduce frustration, so everyone will understand what caused the interruption and when they can expect the project to get back on track.

While some delays may catch you by surprise, you don’t need to wait for a disruption to occur to communicate potential delays. Consider these predictable disruption factors, so you can keep stakeholders in the loop before anything happens:

  • Seasonal demand. In an episode of Quickbase’s Age of Agility podcast, Ron Tessendorf, former president of New Age Logistics, explained how the third-party logistics company predicts disruptions based on seasonal demand. “In the southeast of the country, during the later part of spring and early part of summer, there’s going to be a huge influx of outbound shipping demand when people are getting their produce out,” said Tessendorf. “Going into Q2, we know that getting outbound capacity or having available equipment to meet demand can be a struggle.”

  • Major product launches are another predictable disruption in the logistics industry. The release of a new iPhone will create massive shipping demand, while shippers will be under a lot of pressure to deliver the iPhones in time for the launch. “Every time there is something like a big launch, it comes at the expense of regular freight that’s in a more rhythmic flow of shipping every day,” explains Tessendorf.

  • Workforce shortages cause project delays in some industries as well. Depending on the severity, these disruptions may last anywhere from a few months to a couple of quarters. A workforce shortage in major ports, for example, creates delays because there aren’t enough people to offload import freight.

There are also project disruptions that are difficult to predict, like extreme weather events. “During a hurricane, shippers are being shut down, but there is relief aid that needs to come in. We can preemptively forecast that not by months, but by days, and have equipment positioned for relief efforts and help support shippers to get essential goods to fulfillment centers,” says Tessendorf.

By keeping tabs on different kinds of disruptions, you’re able to preemptively inform stakeholders, implement measures to minimize the impact on your projects, and reduce stress that could erode your relationships.


Use a mix of chatbot and human communication

Chatbot communication with customers and stakeholders is efficient and convenient, especially when they need an answer to a simple question. With 24/7 access to support, customers also enjoy shorter waiting times. But in the case of a complex problem, chatbots aren’t always appropriate.

Say a clothing manufacturer is waiting to receive a shipment of a specific material. Delays could impact the entire production process and even cause stockouts. The company might not be able to fulfill orders and meet customer demand. For the manufacturer, this is a frustrating situation that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible—preferably by a real person.

“When things go wrong, you don’t want to ask a chatbot to tell you where your trucks are; you want somebody on the phone,” explains Tessendorf.

Deescalate urgent situations with customers and stakeholders by talking to them directly instead of using a chatbot. A one-on-one conversation will reduce stress and make the customer feel valued and heard. It’s also an excellent way to gather feedback and find opportunities to improve your processes. There could be smaller issues you’re unaware of that have the potential to snowball into major problems later on, and a live conversation allows you to identify them before they escalate.

Avoid data sprawl for better communication

Digital project management tools make it easy for organizations to track task progress and manage costs, deadlines, and more. But in a complex project, where there are dozens of stakeholders that record information, these tools can lead to data sprawl.

Data sprawl refers to fragmented sets of digital information stored in disconnected systems. The phenomenon hurts relationships by making it difficult to provide stakeholders with correct and up-to-date information, which could have a ripple effect on the entire project’s success. Instead, complex project teams need one app that will act as a single source of truth.

Consider the travel company KAYAK. Its team members were struggling to coordinate projects across all of the business' locations in the U.S., China, India, and Europe. According to KAYAK's former Director of Technology, Jim Giza, spreadsheets weren't cutting it. “We had too many people who needed visibility into project data and statuses. Our teams need speed and efficiency.”

With Quickbase’s no-code project management platform, KAYAK quickly built apps to manage customer feedback and its global team of development experts who are in charge of maintaining the KAYAK website. All of the company’s data is now in one place, which helps keep project communication clear, secure, and up-to-date.

Be agile when projects don’t go as planned

Agility is a must to successfully manage relationships in complex projects. As the needs of the project evolve, a lack of adaptability on behalf of the project team will slow down progress, causing missed deadlines and hurting stakeholder relationships. This is where the project team’s internal tools and ability to handle tough conversations have the opportunity to shine.

Say a transportation sector project is interrupted by drivers falling ill or equipment breaking down. In this scenario, project leaders have to keep their emotions in check to avoid losing sight of what’s best for the stakeholders and negatively impacting the relationship.

To keep your relationships strong, it’s also critical to use project management apps that support agility. A key characteristic of agile apps is flexibility, allowing you to easily add or remove functionalities as the project’s needs change. Additionally, the app should be able to integrate with all of the necessary systems that collect project data to make sure every piece of information is in front of the right people at the right time.

Written By: Rob Glover