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Between 2005 and 2011, IMC published Daily Tips every weekday on consulting ethics, marketing, service delivery and practice management. You may search more than 800 tips on this website using keywords in "Search all posts" or clicking on a tag in the Top Tags list to return all tips with that specific tag. Comment on individual tips (members and registered guests) or use the Contact Us form above to contact Mark Haas CMC, FIMC, Daily Tips author/editor. Daily Tips are being compiled into several volumes and will be available through IMC USA and Mark Haas.

 

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Top tags: client relations  communication  customer understanding  your consulting practice  marketing  consultant role  learning  client service  reputation  goodwill  consulting process  market research  practice management  sales  ethics  planning  client development  engagement management  innovation  proposals  professional development  professionalism  knowledge assets  prospect  trends  presentations  recommendations  consulting colleagues  intellectual property  product development 

#656: Project Failure Early Warning

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, September 19, 2011
Updated: Monday, September 19, 2011
Most consulting engagements go according to plan and deliver great value to the client. However, we all have had projects that go off the rails, either because of something we or others did. How can I know well ahead of time when a project is headed for failure?

One of the best ways to increase the probability of project success is to be vigilant that project failure is right around the corner. Despite our omniscient plan and exceptional project management skills, we do not control all aspects of a project. Client leadership, staff resources, the client company's market, communication miscues, lack of needed skills and other glitches can thwart an otherwise good plan.

Your project management plan, which you must develop jointly with your client, should address project risks explicitly. What if the client cannot provide the specified corporate leadership? What if the needed resources are not made available to you? What if your attempts to work with staff are resisted? What if you are not able to provide sufficient skills or resources to meet your commitments or resolve shortcomings elsewhere in the project? What are the biggest risks to project success and what (specific) mitigation or response steps are you both willing to make?

Tip: No one likes surprises. At the beginning of the engagement and, as often as you mutually deem appropriate, discuss how the project is proceeding and what risks have increased or new ones have surfaced. Make sure each major task area has been assigned as to both responsibility and accountability (often not the same person). This is no time to be either shy or proud. List every risk you can think of. Finally, stay well ahead of the plan by putting in place people and skills needed to assure project completion according to time, budget, quality and outcomes.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  engagement management  project management  risk analysis 

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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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#654: Alternative Ways to Pay Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, September 15, 2011
Updated: Thursday, September 15, 2011
Companies are being squeezed for cash like no other time in our lives. Even though, in theory, they really need consulting services more than ever, how are they, practically, going to pay for them? Can I be proactive to suggest alternative compensation strategies?

We are hearing from a lot of clients that are hitting the wall with all but essential expenditures. As much as we like to think of our consulting services as an investment rather than an expense, and an investment in efficiency and effectiveness, sometimes there is just no getting past the fact that your fees are a check that has to be written. Many clients will increasingly find it hard to pay your fees unless you can help make the case (usually in a new way) that your services are high priority.

Occasionally mentioned but never getting much traction in the past, pay for performance seems to be making a comeback. This is partly because clients want to make sure any investment (including you) is worth the cost, but also because clients are looking for more accountability from consultants. Satisfied with results of other pay for performance or gainsharing agreements for other professional services, executives are exercising their fiduciary responsibilities by asking consultants to assume some of the risk of investing in their intangible services.

What does this mean for you? Maybe nothing, or at least until your client asks you to discuss pay for performance instead of a daily rate or project fee. However, it makes sense to be prepared. Talk to your colleagues in IMC or in your industry about their recent experiences in structure of compensation.

Tip: Be prepared with data and an approach that works for you when the subject arises with a client or prospect. Work out in advance what kind of structure makes sense for you. Recognize that you should only be assuming risk for those portions of the project over which you have control. If you are making recommendations but have no control over implementation, how much risk should you assume? Conversely, this option for risk/reward trade off may be a powerful incentive for the client to involve you more deeply in implementation and management of your recommendations. If this is what you want, build that into your proposed compensation model.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  creativity  fees  innovation  proposals 

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#653: Think Twice About Data You Use in Your Recommendations

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, September 14, 2011
We are a quantitatively-oriented and capable consulting firm but not so much that we would be considered a heavy-duty analytics one. Here's my question. Our clients can vary considerably on the extent to which they are convinced by numbers. At the risk of sounding harsh, are those that discount quantitative analysis not being responsible managers?

We shouldn't be quick to criticize a client's reluctance to adopt our quantitative analyses. As much as fact-based decision making is a good practice, it implies that those decisions are based on valid and reliable data. Reluctance to base decisions on your data can be a competent approach by managers. Do your clients consider the data you use to develop your recommendations valid or not? Your analytical methods? Whose data and models should you, or your clients, trust?

It is widely accepted that data series used for public policy and private decision making are less than perfect. However, it is increasingly recognized that some of these data and the concepts on which they are based are fundamentally flawed. Research over the past decade shows several macro scale financial concepts (e.g., CAPM, VAR, shareholder wealth) fail to stand up to empirical analysis, despite still being taught in business school. At the national policy level, GDP has fallen from favor because it excludes the majority of asset value and infrastructure investment, compelling some countries like the UK to develop a replacement measure. The World Bank admits that 80% of the wealth of nations is left out of asset accounts, even as those flawed accounts are used for policymaking. The unemployment rate, used by economists and media to track the state of the job market, is understated by about half because it measures people looking for work who can't find a job, not real unemployment. See Shadow Stats as one of many emerging alternative statistics sources.

At the company level, executives complain about distorted financial and tax measures they have to contend with. An investment in training is counted, and taxed, as an expense not the investment it is, thus never shows up on the balance sheet. Uncompensated overtime by salaried employees is considered free labor. Data series, business concepts and tax laws all add to this distorted view of the world. As a result, portfolio managers and consultants are adopting ESG (environment, social, governance factors) triple bottom line asset valuation models, for which there is expanding evidence of being a better predictor of financial success than traditional models.

If you are trying to lose weight and the scale was off by 5 (or maybe 10) pounds in one direction (or maybe the other) every few days, to what extent would you base your diet on that scale? We ask our executives to make fact-based decisions but we also should let them be responsible for judging the validity of the data on which they make those decision.

Tip: This is a good reminder to review with our clients at the beginning of an engagement our assumptions about data sources, analytical models and philosophies, and the extent to which we will base our recommendations on analytical vs. other findings.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  analysis  data visualization  management theory  recommendations 

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#652: Prospects May Know More About You Than You Know About Them

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, September 13, 2011
When meeting with a prospect, how much information should be sent ahead and how much reserved for the meeting? I worry prospects either won't read send-ahead material or may not understand it the way we intend.

Consider the purpose of the meeting with a prospect - to get to know each other and drive toward identification of a mutual beneficial activity. If the meeting is on equal terms (i.e., both of you have something interesting and tangible to gain) then both of you are compelled to investigate the other to have a productive meeting. If you think the prospect is not interested enough to read your send-ahead material, then you have not set up your value well enough. If you believe the prospect might misinterpret the materials, then you have not provided unambiguous, compelling materials. You can fix both of these.

However, you may also be surprised at how much your prospect knows about you even without your send-ahead materials. The Internet makes it possible for a prospect to know a lot about you even before they contact you for an introductory meeting (or, if you initiated the contact, before your first meeting). If you are an independent or small firm consultant or have a public persona (e.g., speaker, author, panelist, expert witness, community contributor), then it is easy for your prospect to assemble a profile of you in less than ten minutes.

Do you know your online brand and information from which your prospect will draw? Like a credit report, there can be lots of incorrect data about you. It may not be malicious, just wrong. I once discovered an online profile of me that an organization to which I was speaking had created - with a lot of interesting facts that weren't even about me, but was still available for all to see. We no longer have full control over our own brand and that prospect you are so eager to see may never ask for send-ahead material because they already decided to not meet with you - all based on your online identity.

Tip: Create a sell sheet or capabilities statement that you post on your own website and ask that others refer/link to it. This gives uniformity and currency to your online identity. It is tempting to be listed in a lot of directories and social networking sites but you are better off just listing what's needed to pique people's interest then get them to your website (even if you need separate landing pages for different referral sources).

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  brand  client development  learning  market research  marketing  prospect  reputation 

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