I sometimes have a hard time getting started with my engagements. Even with a project plan, in my kind of custom jobs there is a lot of prep work to assemble people, diagnose the situation, create and vet solutions, all before getting to deliver the final work product. It sometimes seems like I am doing all the work at the end, redoing early tasks in new ways. Is this common?
I suspect many consultants, early in their careers, had issues with time and project management. However, even the best trained consultants can get caught on complex projects and face the circumstances you describe. What seemed like a good approach didn't work out so well. The survey plan didn't return acceptable data. The recommended design didn't fly with the client staff as well you expected, nor as well as with every other of your clients.
Here's something you can do to reduce the likelihood of "getting behind the power curve" on your custom projects. Take a period of time equal to no more than five percent of the project life. While you are assembling your team, doing preliminary diagnostics and developing a relationship with your client, finish the project. If you are staring a ten week project, set aside two days to go from kickoff meeting to final deliverable.
By "finish the project," I mean proceed through all the steps of the project: diagnostics, data gathering, analysis, training, design, facilitation, focus groups, and client briefings. The whole thing, generating draft deliverables for every task. Of course, you will be missing a lot of information, but you are sharp enough to come up with a good guess of the scope, sequence and content of each task as it feeds into the next. Lay out the agenda for a facilitated session, design the training program, "evaluate" the results of a survey, and prepare the final client briefing. You bet there will be holes but you will be amazed by the insights you get. Better now than nine weeks from now.Tip:
This exercise is more than project or contingency planning or a "thought experiment." It forces you through each step and to be accountable for the outcomes of individual tasks. It works really well with a team project, where all can critique each work task, and make the theoretical real. Once you are done, you might even run this by the client, showing him or her the probable work products along the way, albeit highly incomplete. You may get feedback you'd rather hear now than in ten weeks. © 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA