They assume a project manager is a commodity that they can take off the shelf, spray, wipe, and put away, thereby fixing their organizational messes on an ad hoc basis.
Let me give you some examples:
- The head of a financial services firm hired me to manage the launch of a new product for him. I had to drag him kicking-and-screaming through the project plan to create something feasible and usable. Once he had a project plan documented, he let me go stating he could "manage it from here."
- A strategic consulting firm kept stringing me along that they were going to engage me but "now is just not the right time" because "we're just not quite sure how you'll fit into our plans" yet they kept pinging me with various questions to help them market to their clients.
- On a rather large and involved software project, a major client kept delaying until their next major milestone, stating they wanted to wait to bring me in so they could save money by doing as much of the up-front work themselves.
Let's just say that all three wound up in various levels of failure. Project management is a full life-cycle engagement. A solid project manager will understand the business needs creating the project up front, will be able to merge tasks and resources into a usable plan, and will be knowledgeable enough to execute against the plan they've created. Take away any one of those three, and it's like removing a leg from a 3-legged stool.
As project managers, sometimes (even in a rough economy) it's in our best interest just to walk away. Sometimes politely by saying, "I don't think this project is a good fit for me at this point in my career." Sometimes it takes harsher language. It's always OK to fire a client (even a potential client) who doesn't get it. Sometimes I'll let the client think that firing was their idea. Regardless of how it's done, I'm not going to waste skills and talents on a client who won't appreciate them and maximize them. (To my current client, don't worry, you're safe.)
As professionals, we all owe it to ourselves and our respective industries to protect our craft, our accomplishments, and our skills.
Is it time to fire your client?