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#546: Build a System to Help You Keep Your Promises

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, April 18, 2011
Updated: Monday, April 18, 2011
It is embarrassing when a client takes me to task for a member of my consulting team failing to deliver on a promise that I didn’t know about. I have tried action planning sheets and daily debriefs but these don't seem to work. Short of removing this person from the team, are there any clever consultant tricks to solve this problem (and might work for my whole team).

Removing this person from your client-facing team or not allowing them to make commitments to the client is no replacement for inherent professionalism and business maturity. Project organization and client communication are essential skills for a consultant, even for a junior team member.

However, being in a fast-paced consulting engagement (or several at a time with several clients) can be a challenge to keep track of client and other commitments. Most of us keep these in a calendar, in an online journal, contact manager, email system, project management system, or separate client notes. There are a lot of systems to track formal projects deliverables but none I know of specifically to track those commitments that arise continuously in conversations and informal written communications.

You may want to develop a system that could work for your whole team that tracks these "loose" commitments. I have used a low-tech system that is relatively effective in not losing commitments and helping me evaluate how and how many these I create (knowing when you are overpromising is also important).

Tip: I use a deck of colored 3x5 cards. Each color represents a different person or type of person to whom I make a commitment (client, family, self, colleague, association). On it I write date, person to whom I will deliver, the product to deliver, likely time/resources required, and due date. On the back I can add notes or references as I discover them. Cards are for explicit commitments, not general "notes to self." I can sort the cards by target, date, or effort required (the latter so I can knock off a few short tasks or know when I have a major task to complete). When the stack gets big, I lay off on voluntary commitments. When one color dominates, I trim it down. When due dates arrive, I make sure to set aside the time. If I forget cards, I (usually) make a note and transfer to a card when I can. Invent a system that works for you and let/make your team use it.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  consulting tools  engagement management  information management  innovation  your consulting practice 

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Comments on this post...

Michael E. Cohen CMC MBA says...
Posted Tuesday, April 19, 2011
That's an interesting approach.

1. I would try and reduce the number and frequency of loose commitments- by oneself and my team members.

2. Another challenge is how to manage team members from the clinet on a joint client-consultant team. Years ago I complained to my client when one of the client team members didn't meet his "commitments." The client's reaction was sort of "so what?" Perhpas there should be s separate tip on this subject, although it is complicated, in my view, and a great deal could be written and discussed about it. Among the many issues are: (1) What is a commitment?"; and (2) how should you manage team members whose allegiances and reward systems are different than those from your firm? And not to complicate things, but then there are the issuesd associated wiht managing subcontractors and orther indepent consultants.
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