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#631: Beware of the Engagement "Valley of Death"

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, August 15, 2011
Updated: Monday, August 15, 2011
I have noticed in several engagements that after a while, the interaction with the client tapers off from its high level at the start. Is this normal and is it a problem?

While it is not a feature of all engagements, it does occur. There are several reasons for this; some are about you and some about the client. Both may have to do with the return to normalcy after the excitement of a project kickoff. When a project starts, relationships are often being built, there is anticipation about "finally" addressing a likely long standing issue, and both you and the client are excited about getting to work. Everyone is fully focused on the project.

Although it varies, there is a time, about a quarter of the way into a mid- to long-term project, where you can lose the intense connection with your client you started with. This "valley of death" is something to pay attention to and something you can avoid. Symptoms can include your client missing a status briefing or two, staff being slower getting information to you than when the project started, your having to play catch up to meet deadlines, and unexpected variance in earned value. If getting the project launched occupied a lot of staff time, they may feel that they need to make up for the "real work" they missed working with the consultants. These are usually not critical but bear watching. Left unattended, they may grow into something serious.

Tip: Steer clear of the "valley of death" by being very clear with your client about expected tolerance for variance in project plan. Don't leave the schedule of status briefings to chance, nor the expected responsiveness of you or the client staff to requests for information or participation. Check regularly with the client about the state of the relationship beyond just the project plan.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  goodwill 

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