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#679: Make Sure Your Client Asks You the Right Question

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, October 20, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2011
How should a consultant handle a client who, after telling us the nature of the challenges the company faces, asks us to provide services to solve a different set of problems.

Consensus between client and consultant is critical to a successful outcome, and recognition of that success. Presumably the client has brought you in to give an independent and objective view of the challenges and opportunities the client organization faces. If the client has already decided on the symptoms, underlying problems and solutions, then your role as diagnostician is eliminated along with your role as designer of appropriate solutions. If this is the case, the first question is whether you are the right consultant. Consultants provide diagnostic and assessment expertise; if the client just wants you to implement their own solution, they are better off with a contractor.

The second question is whether you and the client have really focused on the right problem. The client or staff may be wedded to a problem definition that may be correct but that leads to a specific solution that is wrong. Most consultants know that the issues clients most often present first do not necessarily represent the full picture. Sometimes dividing (or offering to) an engagement into several parts - diagnosis, design and implementation - can break this thinking and get the client to give you more latitude to help define the issues to be addressed.

Finally, recognize that you both benefit from an orderly discussion from what you are trying to solve through which or where the solution needs to be applied, to how it will be achieved to who (with what resources) is to be accountable for results. Read a short article on a process of how to avoid misdirected projects.

Tip: It is important to have in hand a process to identify ill-defined projects and deal with them before your get too deeply engaged. Know how you can direct the project scoping conversation to either (1) open up a serious debate on fact-based and independent diagnosis or (2) your disengaging from the project respectfully. Don't agree to a project's scope, sequence and content until you and the client agree that you are asking the right question.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  customer understanding  diagnosis  engagement management 

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