When client and consultant are in perfect harmony, the result is almost always an overwhelming success. Engagement profitability is usually higher, and costs are generally lower. Work is delivered quickly, with little to no trouble at all. Another reference client in the bag.
Everyone seems happy.
Except that, it’s nothing but wishful thinking. Engagements are normally extremely stressful because of perceived failure. In fact, according to Gallup Business Journal, only 2.5% of companies successfully complete 100% of their projects. Another shocking 2014 statistic reveals that 50% of project management offices close within three years.
So often, there is a Honeymoon period – the client is so pleased that someone else is on the hook for delivery. Plus the fact that the client found and selected you/your team (over others) and raving to their colleagues how success is only a dozen deliverables away. Everyone is so helpful and easy. Is this heaven?
After the wedding
Suddenly a few months later, the client is aloof. They start questioning your competence. Also, there are always people in the organisation who are unhappy with the engagement and will do what they can to block your project. Yes, we know them as Progress Prevention Officers. And to keep you guessing, they come in all sorts of disguises as well as revealing themselves at the most testing times.
Prevention is better than Cure
So how can consultants and project managers keep their engagements from falling apart? What are the secrets to success? In this blog, we have identified the 5 key elements of the magic formula that will keep your engagements from failing.
- Keep close with key people
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, you’re not telling me anything that we don’t already know. However it’s more than this. Organisations are dynamic – people get promotions, people leave, strategies change, markets change, organisational results affect budgets, people come in favour/fall out of favour. So a 360-degree view of what is happening is important. This begins and ends with relationship. Like plants, human relationships need regular watering to grow. So keep watering those key people!
- Never take Junior Burgers for granted
Another thing to watch out for is never take the less senior people for granted. You probably heard the saying, “be nice to people on the way up, so they can catch you on the way down”. Junior burgers often have influence, are connected and can provide good insight into what is really going on. This is particularly relevant in the Australian business context (I learned this the hard way after 8 years working in the City of London). I strongly believe that engagement success comes down to how well you’re able to navigate the whole organisation. So junior burgers cannot be ignored.
- Trust – gained in drips, lost in buckets
We think trust is still the most important element in consultant-client engagement. Trust happens when your client is ready to share authority with you. In turn, the best way to maintain trust is to place your client’s interest ahead of your own, be aware of the expectations and make sure these are met.
This can be especially challenging in large engagements where trust breaks down as the client starts suspecting that the consultant is not performing his/her job. The basis for this is relationship that we touched on earlier.
- Talk about the good stuff—and manage the bad
The thing about consultants and project professionals is that you do the work first and then you pray that everything will eventually work out. Everyone wants to be part of the glory of a successful engagement. So regularly share with people how the engagement is going to help them. Never stop selling on this one and make time to do it.
But things aren’t always that good. We need to report our progress—the good and bad. Yes, it’s always uncomfortable and we all know that an early heads-up prevents accusations of withholding information. One of the advantages of sharing bad news is “sharing the love” as others within the governance structure will need to carry out their roles. Yes, there is some sophistication on how to share bad news (together with solutions) and this needs to be carefully considered and tailored by client and corporate culture.
- Manage your engagement well
Some consultants and project professionals love to put the blame on unrealistic schedules and budgets. But the truth is, it’s often a result of poor project management. Part of the solution is basic planning including starting from the future target outcome, then plan backwards to today. When I was in managing engagement teams, I found that poor project management was an early predictor of project failure. Yes, many engagement succeed despite poor project management…but they are rare. Consultants and project managers need to take control of the project management throughout the engagement.
But be warned: you can never stop your clients from changing scope, reducing budgets, changing timeframes and more. Be careful to consider any changes, because if you get it wrong, relationship and trust will be damaged.
What are the most challenging problems and issues you have encountered in your past engagements? We’d like to know your story.