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Starting a consultancy business: 7. Managing a consulting project

Thus far in this series, Calvert Markham, former Director of the Centre, has provided basic guidance on deciding your consulting service and promoting and selling it. We now turn to delivering that service.

Although you should of course have the technical expertise and experience needed to conduct the consulting project you have sold, there are other aspects to take into account when delivering technical expertise in a consulting role.

Time is money for consultants and, as projects are the usual vehicle for delivery of consultancy services, the disciplines of project management apply. Beware of scope creep, or, in other words, taking on additional work outside the terms originally agreed for no additional fees. Of course, as you get into a project you learn new information that might lead to a reappraisal of the work required, and, as a result, a need to recontract. Scope creep can also be self-induced, as it is easy to become fascinated by some aspect of the work and go into greater detail than is needed!

Projects should have a clear completion point; you and your client need to have a shared view of when you have delivered what is required, to disconnect and send that final invoice.

Pace yourself, particularly on long projects, when a leisurely start can lead to a desperate rush at the end. Use a work breakdown structure to divide a project into smaller sub-projects, each with its own completion deadline. Consultants, not clients, should drive the pace on a project. Recognise too that clients often work in short sprints – no attention being paid to the project, then a lot for a short period of time until it gets diverted again elsewhere.

Consultancy projects are joint ventures with a client, in which both of you are responsible for a successful outcome. (Indeed, ‘consultancy project’ is technically inaccurate as these are client projects that have enlisted the help of consultants, and therefore the client should retain ownership of the project. Warning bells should start ringing when the client refers to  a project as ‘the consulting project’!) Make sure that there are management arrangements in place with the client that ensure that they continue to oversee and take responsibility for their project, for example by setting up a project steering group.

Behave like a brand ambassador for the profession of management consultancy and your consultancy practice. Clients will form an opinion based on the professionalism and ethical standards you follow. March to your own tune, not that of the client! (The series of ethical dilemmas covered in recent editions of the CMCE Newsletter illustrate some of the challenges in this area and how to deal with them.)

Perhaps all this can be summarised by considering the informal contract that you have with a client. The formal contract is about the work you do; the informal contract focuses more on how you do it. For example, when working on client site, what is the dress code? when are you meant to be present? can you make calls that are not to do with the project in hand? If not on site, and working on other projects as well, how quickly are you expected to respond to a client call?

This in turn influences the client relationship, which will be the topic of the next article.

For more on this and other related topics, see Calvert’s book The Art of consultancy.

Monday 18th October 2021
Swan taking off