Managing a Successful Consultant Engagement

Selecting the consultant that’s right for your project is just the first step in creating a value-adding consulting engagement.  To assure success, you and your consultant will need to write an unambiguous description of the expectations, deliverables, and project scope-of-work, and you will need to follow a solid project management plan.  Here’s how …

1. Write down clear, concise, yet detailed, project specifications – overall objectives, the subjects and questions to include, an outline of the methodology and level of effort, geographic or other limitations, the expected depth and detail of the analyses, deliverable, timing, etc.  Do it carefully – you should consider this document to be your contract with the consultant.

Building a good scope of work is an iterative process.  Use the first draft as the framework for discussions with consultant candidates.  Then, collaborate with the selected consultant to refine and focus your objectives and plan.

For expensive or complex projects, you might use your initial draft to solicit competitive bids.  This is a great way to identify alternative methods and to judge the candidates’ experience and insights.  Just be careful not to place too much weight on quoted price.  The value to be gained from an especially insightful consultant or innovative approach can easily outweigh the few Dollars you might save on the front end price.

2. Good communications between the consultant and your designated project manager will keep your project on track.  The trick is to decide how much communication is ‘just right’.  Too little, and the project risks wandering off on rabbit trails; too much, and you’re likely to bog down in minutia.  The main aims of your communications plan should be to 1.) demonstrate the consultant’s continuing progress, 2.) identify and resolve any unexpected difficulties or surprises and 3.) discuss and agree upon any changes to the scope of work, timing or budget (to be subsequently confirmed in writing).

You should carefully and fully document changes that you and your consultant agree to.  Some of the worst consultant project fiascos that I’ve witnessed were the result a failure to clearly describe and document changes.

3. Document the results.  Your project will generate a mass of information, call reports, data tables, charts and graphs – the WHAT of the consultant’s analysis.  Insist that your consultant go beyond the data to dig into the SO WHAT? – the implications of the findings and what they mean to your business.

Remember to keep an open mind.  The reality that the consultant discovers may not look much like your preconceptions

Add more value by collaborating in this SO WHAT? analysis.  Meld the consultant’s intimate and detailed knowledge with the company and market-specific context that you can bring.

Despite all the care you put into writing the project plan, and the conscientiousness of your communications and project management, you’re likely to run into a few bumps over the course of your consulting project.  Insist that you get what the consultant contracted to deliver, but be fair, too, and don’t ask for more than you originally agree to pay for.

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