There are obviously many factors that contribute to the successes and failures of a project. Overall, the natural tendency may be to conclude that a successful project was due to strong consultants, while an unsuccessful project was the result of poorly performing consultants. In my experience, however, the lead client or client team can impact the outcome of a consulting project as much as, if not more than, the consultants.
As a client, there are a number of things that you can do to help your chances of managing a successful consulting project. The tips in this article are geared toward helping the client role. They are derived from common practices and behaviors that I've personally seen lead to successes or problems on projects. While some tips may seem obvious, the positive behaviors are practiced less frequently than you would expect.
Do you have any similar experiences?
Part 1: (tips 1 and 2)
Part 2: (tips 3 and 4)
Part 3: (tips 5 and 6)
Consultants tend to be very good independent workers. They’re great at meeting deadlines and resolving issues as they pop up. This makes it easy to sit back and let them do their thing while you tend to other business. I’ve actually heard clients say that they don’t want to be bothered unless there’s a problem. This sounds great, right? You trust them, they know all of the details, your Inbox is finally down to one screen, you passed level 4-14 in Angry Birds, and you still are able to make it home in time for dinner. Perfect.
Second, know the issues as they arise. By understanding the challenges and possible risks, you’ll have a better feel for how they may affect the project outcomes. Plus, you’ll have the best sense for how to navigate your company when you need help to resolve an issue. Others on the client side may be more willing to quickly lend a hand if they are contacted by you as opposed to a consultant.
The bottom line is to stay in frequent communication with your consultants. The good news is that most consultants will push for this, as well. Get the scoop through status reports, team meetings, and 1-on-1s. Ask clarifying questions. Actually read the status reports and draft versions of deliverables when they are provided. Participate in meetings and, yes, pay attention. Meetings are not the time for the Angry Birds (okay, you’re probably on to Candy Crush by now).
2. Be the spokesperson
Your superiors will (hopefully) be interested in the outcomes of your consulting project. After all, they most likely had to approve the spending. Whether it’s through formal presentations, periodic status updates, or just a casual conversation in the hallway, expect that you’ll need to provide updates on the project.
Believe it or not, I’ve seen many instances where the clients will lean on their consultants to be the spokesperson for their project. Whether they are uncomfortable in front of leadership, unsure of the details (and didn’t follow tip #1 in this article), or don’t want to be asked a difficult question, the reigns of the spokesperson role are handed to a consultant. After all, consultants are subject matter experts and are often great presenters, right?
As the client, you need to embrace the opportunity to be the project spokesperson. It shows your superiors that you are involved, have a handle on the project details, and are confident in the outcomes. It also provides a great chance to get some face time with decision makers that you may not know very well. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen people get promoted because of the way they managed a consulting engagement.
Good consultants strive to set their clients up to be successful and look good in the eyes of their superiors. They will help you prepare for meetings and presentations because, let’s face it, everyone benefits if you do well presenting the project. Your prep won’t have to be a crash course if you’ve stayed in tune with the project details. When reporting on your project, be prepared, concise, confident, and honest. Like you, your superiors don’t want to be surprised at the end of the project if things go awry. If you don’t know an answer, say so and offer to follow up.
There is nothing wrong with partnering with a consultant for a meeting or presentation. There may be instances where you’ll be asked to get into the gory details, so let the subject matter expert do just that (always keeping it at the appropriate level of detail for the audience). You may want to have them present certain parts of a presentation or address certain questions. Just keep in mind that you should take the lead, actively participate, and not continually defer to the consultant. Don’t use this as a forum to pin issues on the consultant or to hang them out to dry on difficult questions. Demonstrating to leadership that you are truly partnering will boost their confidence in you.