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When Consulting Assignments Go Bad

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

The Society for the Advancement of Consulting® (SAC®) has asked its worldwide members to canvass their own clients to determine why consulting assignments "go bad" for the client and/or consultant, and what the indicators are.

Andy Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting in Solon, OH says, "You know a consulting project is in trouble if you have two consecutively bad meetings with a client. Even if you are overreacting, thinking this way keeps you on your toes." Clients seem to agree. They report that they often question why they haven't challenged a consultant when a meeting does not live up to their expectations.

Joe Liss, of Bennet and Liss CPAs in New Orleans, adds, "These are the sure ways to know your consulting project is failing."

  1. Client needs reminders of things included in the engagement agreement.
  2. Client involvement and attitude turns tepid.
  3. Client becomes harder to reach.
  4. Client needs reminders that payment on invoice(s) is due.

Joe continues, "If any or all of these things begin to happen, you know you are in trouble. What's worse, it is probably the consultant's fault! Surest way to avoid failed engagements? Treat your client well, keep your promises, deliver results."

"The major problem we've found," notes Alan Weiss, Ph.D., CEO of SAC, "is poor communication, which means infrequent communication. If the only time the consultant bothers to interact with the owner of the project is when there is bad news, that's never good. We recommend that weekly meetings for the first 90 days between engagement manager and project sponsor are 'musts' for successful implementation."

Darius Brown, President of The Boland Hill Group in Dublin, CA, observes that extending dates never helps. "Extending the time frame-placing a new date on the calendar-is useless unless you also address the two things that got the project in trouble to begin with: 1) bottlenecks, or 2) an incorrect estimating model. Otherwise, you are just postponing your failure to a later date...and burning money in the mean time."

"Clients and consultants want projects to meet goals quickly and efficiently," summarizes Weiss, "but that requires they act as partners from the outset, not as buyer and vendor."

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