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Return on Relationships

This article was originally published on the Tri Tuns Blog.

It is a common trap on many IT projects that team members are so focused on ensuring project “success” (typically defined as on-time and on-budget delivery) that team members forget the critical importance of developing and maintaining effective relationships. Ironically, forgoing the relationship building elements of the project (e.g. developing trust, ensuring effective project team interaction, etc.) often causes project delays, disagreements, and quality problems which ultimately lead to the project running late, over budget, or otherwise being deemed a failure. When project teams skip the critical step of building effective relationships:

  • Project time lines are increased due to extensive time being wasted resolving disagreements, such as different views on scope of work, bugs vs. enhancements and performance measurements
  • Stakeholders are unwilling to divulge important information with consultants and/or internal project team members, leading to ineffective solutions being developed and implemented
  • Problems slowly escalate and disagreements become more intense as the project go-live date nears.

Many times the problems that lead to project failure can be prevented – or at least more effectively resolved – if team members invest time and energy in developing honest, trusting, effective relationships from the very start.

Investing time and energy to develop effective, trusting relationships with team members, clients, partners and others will deliver benefits that far exceed the costs. This is realized through proactive collaboration and teamwork, streamlined problem resolution, improved customer satisfaction, increased referrals and references, and maintaining long-term, profitable relationships (a positive Return on Relationships).

Project team members should view time spent relationship building as an investment that will deliver future benefits. The perceived benefits of skipping or short-changing relationship building efforts are much lower than the very real costs when the project encounters the inevitable stress and disagreements that emerge (a negative Return on Relationships).


  • Do you typically have a positive or negative Return on Relationships? What could you do to ensure you have a positive Return on Relationships? What additional benefits would you get from spending more time developing positive relationships with each stakeholder? What problems could be avoided by doing so?
  • Do your project team members know how to develop effective relationships? Can they repair damaged relationships? Are they comfortable working with clients? Other departments? Senior executives? Many times project team members are great subject matter experts in their field, but they do not know how to develop and maintain effective professional relationships. Team members – even senior members – may need help learning to develop productive professional relationships.
  • What can you do to build trust with each stakeholder? Trust is the ultimate tool for relationships. This tool can neither be granted nor created during a single meeting; it is built slowly and steadily over time through repeated interactions. What can you do to ensure that once it is earned, you maintain the trust of others?


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Julia Tanasic

excellent post! Reading this it immediately comes down to the question – as you described – : “Do your project team members know how to develop effective relationships?” and how do you teach them or help them add on those skills? Sometimes the “learning by showing” principle leads to the “doing it wrong” experience. Bad experience makes you hesitate to re-try effective and productive relationship management. Consecutive Leadership programs (so-called career fast tracks) while on the job and additional mentoring can step in and help out a lot. Although at the end of the day, nothing can beat the spirit of practice, practice, practice.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Jason – Agree with Julia that this is a great post. The key to relationships is good communication and that seems to be the less emphasized area when training project managers. I don’t care how good a PM is at scheduling, budgeting, and planning; if they can’t communicate to the stakeholders they are not going to be successful.

Return on Relationship is a great concept! How would you measure it?