When Clients Won’t Use Project Management Tools

For years now I have been searching for that perfect client portal, communication, and project management tool and I have found some good ones. I have used a few different platforms from self-hosted to SaaS solutions depending on where I was working and how I was working at the time.

The Ideal: Single Point of Communication with Historical Archive

The ideal is always the same, a single place of communication and storage of all things pertaining to a particular project or task. The two platforms I have spent the most time with are Basecamp for project management and Zendesk for support ticket management. Both of these platforms are great in that they are simple to use and meet my goal of storing all communication and project assets in a single space. This is of course is opposed to emails scattered by date and varying subjects. Email is simply not a project management tool despite the number of folks who seem to try and make it one. Personally, I can not wait for the death of email, but I won’t hold my breath and that is probably a rant better saved for another day.

Nothing Works in the Ideal

The problem I have incurred (over and over again) is threefold:

  1. The project starts strong and the team is utilizing the chosen project management tool, but then things get lazy and people start to email some things, and storage of relative notes and assets becomes hit or miss.
  2. There is one team member who simply refuses to use the system. They continue to email notes and files back and forth and when the project management tool is mentioned they can act like your request is bordering on the absurd… ‘What you don’t’ get email?’.
  3. The client simply will not use such systems. I have had clients simply tell me that they use email and that is how they work. The tone is often one that resonates with the fact they are paying me and yet I am making their life hard by suggesting changes to the way they work. And then there is the teammate who is more passive-aggressive in how they approach their fight against the system, they simply refuse to use it. I find that the most common example is when working within my website maintenance ticket system and a client who will read a ticket (sent via email), but rather than reply to the system, they open a new email and then email me directly with a response.

So I have been struggling with how to deal with it. This for years now.

  • Do I just work their way? Part of me figures they are paying me so I should work their way. Part of me counters that with the fact that these systems are designed to make me more effecient and to work ‘better’ for them.
  • Do I force them into my way of doing things, basically stating ‘this is the way I work and if are going to work with each other…’?
  • Do I just deal with it? This honestly is my go-to method, which kills me because I know things could be more organized, better tracked, etc but at the end of the day I can’t force someone to work my way… Can I?

I would love to know how others deal with this.