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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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#713: Don't Take Your Client's Assessments at Face Value

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Almost every engagement starts with the assumptions of the client about the problem, its causes and at least some suggestion of its solution. I don't want to be disrespectful but to what extent do we consider the client's assertions valid as a basis to start our work?

This is a great question, since it lies at the heart of the consultant's value or lack thereof. Presumably we are retained to provide independent and objective advice. This includes testing the assumptions of the client. As Will Rogers said," It ain't what we know that's the problem. It's what we know that just ain't so." If the client's assertions about the cause, problem and solution are right, then why are our experience and judgment needed at all? You are not insulting your client by validating his or her assertions - it is why you are there.

Another issue is whether a client's staff, or vendors or customers, should be considered the same way. Many organizations have a culture that represents that management doesn't know what is going on but staff really does. Or that the customer is always right - regardless of what an organization thinks of the services or products they provide.

Here is a good example of how perceptions vary widely within a company. According to a study of how companies work, managers see their companies as self-governing and egalitarian. Employees see nothing of the sort. How would you advise organizational change if you faced a client with perceptions internally differing as much as in this survey? DO you believe the management or the employees, or neither?

Tip: Consultants would be wise to treat information or emotions or conclusions provided to them at the start of an engagement as just that - firmly held beliefs of the source. All information needs to be verified and we, as independent and objective professionals, do well by not taking anything at face value.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  assessment  client staff  communication  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  learning  market research 

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#703: Consultants Can Take a Few Tips From Sherlock Holmes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Isn't consulting the same as detective work? Don't we both look at the facts and try to "solve" the client's problems?

Consultants might want to learn how to play detective, using the techniques of the famous literary character Sherlock Holmes. We are often asked to solve a problem, figure out what caused a failure (or success), etc. Think of yourself as that famous London-based fictional sleuth of the late 19th/early 20th centuries created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The next time you face a quandary, think "What would Sherlock Holmes do?" He would:
  1. Keep an open mind, not being swayed by the preponderance of opinions as to the "obvious" solution.
  2. Employ deductive reasoning, based facts you have confirmed.
  3. Investigate all possibilities thoroughly, especially ones that at first seem implausible.
  4. Look carefully at the details, again especially at those details that may seem irrelevant.
  5. Look for connections, relationships, consistencies and inconsistencies.
  6. Ask lots of questions, and don't automatically accept the first answers you are given.
  7. Wear a disguise (OK-you might want to scratch that one!).
  8. Be relentless in pursuit of the solution.
The next time you are given a challenging question, remember to ask yourself the question, "What would Sherlock do? What processes would he use? How would he outsmart the problem at hand and not just follow well worn solution paths?"

Tip: Did you know that Holmes never actually uttered that famous line "Elementary, my dear Watson" in any of Conan Doyle's four novels or 56 short stories featuring the character? Holmes does say "Elementary" in the book The Adventure of the Crooked Man, but the famous line does not appear in its entirety in any of Conan Doyle's stories. The full phrase seems to have originated in either a subsequent film or theater play (the actual source has been long debated) based on Conan Doyle's original work.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  customer understanding  engagement management  learning 

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#683: Don't Assume the Client Recognizes the Value of Your Work

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, October 26, 2011
As part of the disengagement process, my firm goes through a formal exit interview, a review of contract terms and deliverables, and asks for referrals and/or testimonials. However, in some engagements for which we did a great job and exceeded all expectaitons, the client was reluctant to provide testimonials. What gives?

There are two issues likely at work here. First, checking on the status of your performance should not wait until the end of an engagement. Set up a fairly clear and deep set of performance expectations at the beginning of the engagement. Then confirm that you have met those expectations periodically throughout the engagement. The client may be forming a negative opinion of your work without you knowing it, one that is hard to reverse at the end even if you delivered all requirements. Don't let any bad opinions take root.

Second, don't assume that a client recognizes the full value your advice, services and work products. What you may see as an elegant, sustainable and powerful solution to a serious long-standing problem may appear to the client as just another piece of consultant work. If the problem you are solving is not specifically owned by your client sponsor, the perceived value may be low. Beyond noting that the work product was completed on time and budget, clarify and have the client affirm that the deliverable solved a significant problem or captured a significant opportunity. Don't let your work inadvertantly be undervalued.

Tip: Your job as a consultant is to improve the client's condition. Don't leave it to chance that they fully realize that you created real value. If you don't manage their expectations and conclusions, you run the risk of them thinking that you just "delivered work."

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  client service  customer understanding  disengagement  engagement management  interpretation  referrals 

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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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#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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