Posts Tagged ‘deliverables’

3 Reasons Why Consulting Assignments Fail – Part 2

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

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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How To Keep Control When You Work With Consultants

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Marie Wiese at Marketing CoPilot wrote in her blog last week that CEO’s begrudge – even hate – spending money on marketing services or marketing consulting. She says that’s because marketing feels like a series of unconnected projects and tasks with vague un-measurable results.

We often encounter similar objections when we meet business owners. Some haven’t worked with strategy consultants and just don’t know what to expect. Even those who have are concerned that they are getting into a situation over which they have no control.

Consulting assignments have a reputation for expanding beyond their original scope and budget. Then there are the results – or apparent lack thereof. Entrepreneurs and business owners who, by nature, want to be in control find this hard to deal with.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Start by asking for a written proposal which contains the following 5 sections:

1. Our Understanding of the Situation. Look for a detailed description of the situation you now face and the factors which created it. This section should echo your discussions with the consultants – and should be written from their notes of those discussions.

2. Scope of Work. This should contain a step by step explanation of how the consultants will help you deal with the Situation. Ask for the full assignment to be broken into steps and laid out in a table with 3 columns:

  • A description of exactly what will be done by the consultants in each step.
  • A clear statement of the deliverable or deliverables for each step.
  • The resources that both the client and the consultant must provide in order to secure the deliverable(s).

3. Schedule. This section contains the estimated time required to complete each step. The consultant may provide a range of times if they perceive risk, e.g. they have not been able to examine documents being provided by you. Insist, however, that the lowest and highest estimates of the hours required, and the factors which determine them, are clear.

The Schedule should include a proposed start date and may have a target date for completion.

4. Fees and Payment. Preparing the Scope enables the consultant to determine who – e.g. partner, senior consultant, or research associate – will do the work. Completing the Schedule enables a realistic estimate to be made of the time required. Applying the rate for the person doing the work to the hours required to complete it generates the fee for each step. This section should also contain the total cost of the assignment. Ask for it to be broken out by partner etc.

Travel costs – e.g. mileage, air fares – or other expenses should be shown separately. (Note some consultants bill their clients for the time they spend travelling, others do not.)

We always include the statement, at this point, that no additional costs of any type will be incurred without the client’s prior approval.

Usually taxes e.g. HST are excluded from fees.

Make sure the proposal is clear on how and when the consultant is to be paid. In most cases, we send our clients an invoice when we complete a step and request payment on presentation. In this way they are constantly in control of how much they are spending on us.

5. Termination. Insist that you have the right to terminate an assignment at any time. Clarify the financial terms attached to termination before the work begins.

We tell our clients that if, if the deliverable(s) for any step are not completed, they can terminate the project at the end of that step. In that event we simply expect to be paid for the work we have completed.

There is no reason why entrepreneurs and business owners should not be in control when they work with consultants. Getting a clear, specific, written proposal will get you off to a good start. We’ll talk about other ways to stay in control in future posts.

Most consultants just want to deliver results – and we don’t want to be hard to deal with.

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