by Randall CraigFiled in: Blog, Make It Happen TipsheetTagged as: Consulting, Governance, Planning, Service Quality
Why are all consulting projects not wildly successful? Why are some merely acceptable, and others fail?
Without a doubt, consultants are often to blame: they over-promise, under-scope, or take on assignments with unrealistic deadlines. Yet clients also control the outcome of the engagement, and often, unwittingly, sabotage their consultants.
Here are six ways this is done:
1) Selection process for consultants is too costly. The best firms are very busy, especially in the hottest fields. They won’t go through what they see as unreasonable “hoops” or costly processes to bid – but many mediocre firms will. The result is a choice of B list players, driving up risk. To solve this, review your procurement process to ensure that the right consultants actually choose to bid.
2) Fee pressure affects work effort. An open and frank discussion on work effort and fees is critical. The best consultants would never compromise their reputation by taking on work that couldn’t be done within the budget. Yet, if there is undue pressure on fees, then something, somewhere, must be cut:, fewer senior resources, less time on discovery, less time exploring options, recommendations, or implementation. As a result, project risk goes through the roof. (On the other hand, any consultant who pads their fees will quickly find themselves without clients, and without a reputation.)
3) No “swilling the broth”. A poorly-defined engagement is where the consultant is constrained from doing an appropriate discovery. On the other side of the coin, the term swilling the broth is about consultants who do a great job of discovery, swill their findings together, and then feed you back your own broth. The most effective engagements include a discovery phase where the consultant surfaces issues and ideas… but also where the consultant adds their deep experience and knowledge of best practice.
4) No internal alignment. A successful engagement requires cooperation, not just between the consultant and the client, but also within the client. If some internal groups have differing priorities – or are concerned about the impact of the consultant’s recommendations – they will not fully engage with the consultant. Or, they may actively sabotage the engagement’s success. Internal alignment is critical.
5) Project delays. The consulting team that is working on your project is actually juggling a number of different priorities: other projects, business development/proposal writing, scheduled training courses, personal vacations, and internal firm commitments. When your project is resourced, there is a certain amount of flexibility, but not an infinite amount of it. Delays increase the cost of the project to the consultant immeasurably: momentum is lost, project management costs increase, and other projects begin to take priority. Even more importantly, delays signal that the project is a lesser priority, both internally and with the consultant.
6) Payment delays. Like any business, consulting firms need to pay their expenses. Since many consultants bill at the end of the month, and many clients take 30 days to pay, there is often a gap of 60 days between when an expense is incurred and the payment received. When the delays are even greater, consultants are even less motivated to go the extra mile. (Conversely, quick payment is exceptionally motivating.)
In 30+ years of consulting, I have never seen a client who intentionally sabotages their project. But I have seen many clients who ask “how can we be a better client?” The answer to this question will have a direct impact on the quality of the project. This week, if you use consultants, ask them this question.
And if you serve clients… How might you help your clients be better clients? Since it takes two to tango, go through this list again, and pinpoint your role in each.
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