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)
Quite possibly the most important thing to do for a consulting engagement is to align your expectations with the consultant before the project begins. It is a standard practice for consultants to create a Statement of Work (SOW) or some other document that clearly outlines the project to be performed for the client. As the client, it is imperative that you review the SOW in detail and provide feedback. If you have specific details in mind, ensure that they are captured and remove all ambiguity.
One detail that must be agreed upon and documented in the SOW is the project scope. The scope defines the specific work that will be performed by the consultants. Clearly document what will be in scope for the project, as well as items that may appear to be related but will be out of scope. Think ahead and be as thorough as possible. Changing or adding to scope during the middle of a project can lead to poor quality, missed deadlines, and increased cost. No one wants to go back and ask their boss for more money.
Realistically, there’s a good chance that something will pop up during a project that will require scope to change slightly. Consultants are generally pretty good at accommodating such smaller changes, especially earlier in the delivery cycle. However, larger scale changes can be problematic. Work with your consultants to understand the impact of the change. They’ll help you determine if work needs to be re-prioritized, if deadlines need to be moved, and if additional costs will be required.
When faced with a scope decision, it is normal to want every little change to be incorporated. Do a reality check before pushing for a scope change. Does the need outweigh the potential impact? Could the change be added during a future phase of the project? Scope creep can have a major impact if you’re not careful. Don’t be a scope creeper.
You most likely will hire a consultant when you require their knowledge and expertise to help address a current need or solve a problem. They bring an outside voice with different experiences than your own. Their opinions may differ from yours. How do you work together to achieve a common goal?
In order to achieve success, it is imperative that you partner with the consultants. For various reasons, some people on the client side find it difficult to partner with consultants. The client may feel threatened or may fear they’ll be exposed by an expert. It can be an ego thing because they don’t want to be told how to do their job. They may not agree with the opinions of the consultant or they may question their competency.
Keep in mind that you, or someone in your company, brought them in for their expertise. The consultants should bring industry and/or functional knowledge, leading skills, and a fresh perspective to help address your company’s needs. A partnership means that both the clients’ and consultants’ opinions are important and should be heard, even if you are the ultimate decision maker. Additionally, this is a great opportunity for you to learn and build your own expertise. Understand what other companies in your industry are doing. Try to pick up a few new skills along the way.
When the project is not approached as a partnership, common mistakes are made. As the client, try to avoid these counterproductive scenarios:
- Don’t make it an “us” vs. “you” atmosphere, where you are constantly calling out or blaming the consultants. You wouldn’t do that if they were your employees.
- Don’t always try to be the smartest person in the room. “Boosting client’s ego” is not typically part of a Statement of Work. By all means, lend your expertise, give guidance, and share opinions. However, being a sponge can be very effective at times and more productive than trying to demonstrate how much you know.
- Don’t be the devil’s advocate’s advocate. It is good to question and poke holes. Thinking through all aspects of an issue is necessary. However, there is a difference between asking healthy questions and questioning absolutely everything. Thinking up one-off scenarios that will never happen and sending the team off to chase down answers wastes time and money. If you like to argue, join a debate team.
Remember, the client and the consultants have a common goal. A successful project benefits both sides. Partner up and learn as much as you can along the way.