3 Reasons Why Consulting Assignments Fail – Part 2

I mentioned the first of 3 reasons why I think assignments fail – Trying To Solve The Wrong Problem – last time. Here are the other 2.

• Reason # 2 – Failure to manage expectations.

If you don’t set expectations you can’t manage them.

I’ll begin with the money. The consultant has to accept the risks and estimate or quote a fee they can live with. The conditions under which the fee can be changed must be clearly understood by the client. Both parties must believe that termination conditions are fair. Most importantly, there can be no surprises. If there is even the possibility of additional charges the topic must be raised immediately.

If the consultant and the client don’t agree on clear, realistic goals and deliverables before the work begins, then neither will know what outcome the other really expects. The key word is “realistic”. The consultant has to avoid over-promising, which sets the stage for under-delivering. The client has to avoid asking for a $50 result on a $5 budget.

The assignment must be broken down into a series of steps or building blocks, each of which has clear deliverables. Each step must have a start and finish date.

When things get off track, and they will, the consultant must immediately draw that to the client’s attention. If the client is troubled by any aspect of the assignment she/he must bring that to the consultant’s attention. Alternatives must be proposed and agreement reached (no doubt involving compromise on one or both sides) on how to adapt and move ahead.

Phone calls, voice mail, email and ad hoc meetings are the communication tools we use most frequently. But they cannot replace regular face-to-face meetings, with a pre-arranged agenda and record of the follow up actions to be taken.

The consultant has to obtain the client’s agreement that the deliverables for a step have been met. There is no room for hesitation, if the client isn’t sure, the step is not complete.

• Reason # 3 – Changing the scope of the assignment in mid-stream.

It may be perfectly logical to make changes to the goal/deliverables of an assignment before it’s complete. For example, if new or unexpected questions arise as a step is completed it might be necessary to find the answers to them.

But it just as easily may not be. For example, deciding not to roll out a research project nationally based on input from customers in one Province, so that the money saved can be used for something else.

Even when changes are made for good reasons they may require time and other resources that weren’t considered in the original plan. Giving in to the temptation to complete more work with the same people usually results in underestimating the delays to the original assignment.

So both client and consultant have to objectively assess the impact and agree on the adjustments to the plan before making any change.

It’s certainly not fair to say that all business owners are anti-consultant. But it is fair to say that many have at least some degree of scepticism about what consultants can actually achieve.

When I asked some colleagues for their top 3 reasons why assignments fail, most said responsibility rests solely with the consultant. However, this can’t always be true.

But, unfortunately, it is true that we (the consultants) are often holding the gun when it shoots us in the foot.

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Tags: business owners, consultant, deliverables, goals, Jim Stewart, outcome, ProfitPATH, resources

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