How to Successfully Manage a Consulting Project in 6 Essential Steps
“I get just as excited about building a birdhouse as when providing a strategic counsel to a client.” – Robert L.Peters
Since the dawn of the Industrial revolution, Consultants have helped in creating some of the most ambitious and innovative projects around the world. Have you heard of the Marmaray Tunnel in Turkey? An underwater railway tunnel that connects the European and the Asian parts of Istanbul? The project costs $4.5B and took 9 years to complete. What about the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, in China? This impressive 16-mile bridge and tunnel structure, includes two small artificial islands too, in order to provide support to the construction.
Regardless of how big your Consulting project is, it’s necessary to use the best methods and approach in managing it.
How to Successfully Manage a Consulting Project in 6 Essential Steps:
When you are buying services, and in particular intangible services like consulting, the bulk of the work comes after the procurement process has ended. You have to monitor and manage the outcomes of the project, but also the project itself. Indeed, consulting projects very rarely play out as planned
Know the Consulting Industy
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1. Get organized to manage your project
Managing a consulting project is first and foremost managing a project. The same principles apply. To maximize the chances of success of your project, you will need to manage these three elements:
- Stakeholders – This is project management 101. Align the stakeholders to make sure they will support the project and collaborate with the project team and the consultants.
- Project – You need to put in place the best practices for project management: define the work plan, clarify the roles and responsibilities, and put in place a clear governance.
- Change – Always obvious, but more often overlooked, change management is a key success factor for consulting projects. Anticipate the resistance to change in the teams impacted by the project and define strategies to address each situation.
2. Monitor the performance
Don’t wait until the end of the project to evaluate the performance and share your results with the consultants. The reasons for low performance can be multiple and simultaneous. It could come from the Consulting Firm (capabilities, skills, experience, staffing, etc.) or your teams (low priority, staffing, etc).
In any case, it is best to sit down with the Consulting Firm to discuss and understand the issue and find solutions together.
3. Manage the Consulting contract
When you are working with external consultants, you also have to manage the relationship. First, you will have to track the changes in the project that can touch scope, staffing, timeline or unforeseen events. When these changes are substantial, you should consider amending the contract. In any case, keep a trace of the changes in the minutes of the Steering Committees.
For very large projects, you should consider organizing a formal mid-project review. You can cover both the changes to the statement of work and the quality of the outcome. It should not prevent you from checking-in regularly with the Consulting Firm to anticipate potential slips in the project scope and timeline, and allow your provider to fix the problem.
Consider the consulting firm as your partner with a common objective: the success of your project. Be unbending on the quality of the outcomes. Give them feedback on their performance and visibility on payments.
4. Wrapping up – Anticipate and prepare for when the Consultant departs
Maybe you have prepared the transition from the start (in other words, in your RFP), and included the transition plan and regular check-ins in the deliverables. If that’s not the case, make sure to prepare for when the consultant leaves.
Once you have decided what recommendations you will act on, you have to organize for how you will act. You should also consider the transfer of knowledge in particular if the project implemented a new organization or technology. And you should define this plan with the consultant at hand.
Prepare the performance assessment for the Consulting Firm by gathering the information collected along with the project.
5. Don’t hesitate to end the contract earlier
Sometimes Consulting Projects have to be closed earlier than expected. Many changes can happen between the moment you decide to work with consultants and the end of the consulting projects.
The context can change or the management team. If that’s the case, continuing the project as it is might just be a loss of energy and money. Always find ways to adapt the scope to your needs. And terminate the contract if you must, and if the consequences will be acceptable.
6. Close the project neatly
Whatever the reason for terminating the project early, don’t rush into it. Take the time to analyze the impact of the termination and the probability of success of another consulting project. Prepare also what to communicate with your teams involved in the project.
At that point, you should have paid the consulting provider based on the delivery, and accrued the budget until the end of the project.
Keep the last invoices on your desk until you are sure that the project is delivered in full. That will give you enough leverage to get back to finish the project.
When you think the project is closed, and the invoices are approved for payment, you can take the time to debrief the consultants on their performance on the project.
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Hélène Laffitte is the CEO of Consulting Quest, a Global Performance-Driven Consulting Platform and author of “Smart Consulting Sourcing”, a step by step guide to getting the best ROI from your consulting. With a blend of experience in Procurement and Consulting, Hélène is passionate about helping Companies create more value through Consulting.