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#655: Is Your Client in Charge?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, September 16, 2011
Updated: Monday, September 19, 2011
One of my consulting colleagues and I have an ongoing argument about the respective roles of the consultant and the client to be responsible for the outcome of the engagement. She says the client is responsible for making sure the engagement provides the desired performance improvement, but I think the consultant is responsible.

Better this disagreement should be between your colleague and you than between client and consultant. This boils down to two things: clear definition of responsibilities and communication. When two parties to an agreement are unclear as to who is responsible for what, trouble can't be far behind. The longer this ambiguity exists, the greater the project can get off track.

Even with a contract, project plan or operating model, there may still be elements of an engagement that are unclear. At a minimum, specify, for each major resource, function, and task area, who is responsible for doing the work or securing the resources, who is accountable for the acceptability of the final product, and who is a necessary contributor. Have this discussion in a group where all parties are present so you can reconcile differences of opinion.

We are not done yet.. Perhaps more problematic than the initial responsibility/accountability consensus is the mid to late project affirmation of those responsibilities. As the project proceeds, tasks are likely to be added, deleted or altered. One of the worst things that can happen to a consultant is to assume that the project will work out even if the client is not keeping up their part of the agreement. They may get distracted (remember, your engagement is not the only thing on their mind), other company issues divert resources from your project, and staff enthusiasm for your work may dissipate. If your eye is not on the total picture, you may reach the end of the project having done "your" part but the outcomes of the engagement as a whole are unsatisfactory.

Tip: Here is where communication with your client is critical. At major milestones, review with your client project roles, your respective understanding and evaluation of how well each of you are keeping up your responsibilities, and what risks are emerging should those responsibilities not be met. Consider appropriate options if either you or your client are not meeting (or are at risk of not meeting) their obligations, including withdrawing from the engagement.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consultant role  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  professionalism  roles and responsibilities 

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