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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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#40: Your Role in Your Client's Business Continuity Planning

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, May 1, 2009
Updated: Saturday, May 2, 2009
I am increasingly concerned about the impact of a pandemic on my clients' businesses. What Should I do to help them prepare?

This is certainly an important issue for your clients but there is a subtext to your question. Whether or not your main consulting focus is in strategy or business continuity, I suspect you can contribute to helping your client prepare plans for and execute activities to maintain business operations. The subtext is whether or not the same factors that affect your clients will directly or indirectly affect you. If your client has to curtail or suspend business, what happens to their need for your services?

It may be a little late to develop strategies to build a fault tolerant and failure resistant business model. However, there are several ways in which you can support your client in the face of a pandemic threat to their business. Think how you can use your specific expertise to help with the following circumstances:
  • There will be a need for information both within the company and with suppliers and customers
  • Raw materials may be reduced if your client's current suppliers shut down
  • Customer contact may be severely limited if operations involve facilities where customers congregate
  • Key personnel may be sick and unable to work or unable to access their facilities
  • You may be able to implement telecommuting or remote work if your client's information infrastructure is set up adequately
  • Operations may be restricted by emergency regulations or administrative actions
  • Demand for products may be affected, either increased or decreased, or the configuration desired may change
There are dozens more issues that could affect your clients. What skills could you bring to help support business continuity planning?

Tip: Regardless of the size of your consulting practice, this could affect your business as well. How wil you continue to serve your client if you are restricted from going to their office? Or you are reluctant to get on a plane or train? Or are expected to participate in focus groups or customer interviews? What is your own business continuity plan?

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client service  emergency  innovation  planning  roles and responsibilities 

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#36: Sources of Insight into What Companies Want

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, April 27, 2009
With large businesses being so conservative in their consulting investments these days, it looks like small businesses may be my firm's best bet for near term engagements. What consulting services are most in demand these days?

This varies a lot by industry, but there are a few general factors in most small businesses needing consultants these days. Of course, this assumes that the company is aggressive about growing and not retrenching like its larger counterparts. Think about what any business does when time get tough - they get creative. A consultant who can uncover innovation opportunities should do well. But what are the best ways to do this?

You probably already read the annual estimates of business trends in Inc. magazine, the Economist, Fortune and other business periodicals. These are good as general guides but for insight, try to find investment, market research or corporate strategy forecasts. Take an Intuit investigation of small business innovation. This is a great view of how businesses (written for small ones but most insights apply to large ones as well).

Tip: Another place to get the inside scoop is the recently published annual reports of companies in your industry. Each report will have some section titled something like, "Significant Known Events, Trends or Uncertainties Impacting or Expected to Impact Comparisons of Reported or Future Results." Get reports from annualreports.com for several companies and compile the common themes. At a minimum, you will have some good competitive information to run by a prospect. At best, you will know the kinds of consulting services best able to help companies in this industry.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  customer understanding  innovation  market research  planning  proposals 

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#32: The Five Percent Rule

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 21, 2009
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

Tags:  consulting process  engagement management  planning  project management 

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#29: Recruit Your Partners Like an Athletic Coach

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, April 16, 2009
I've gotten to know a lot of fellow consultants, but most not very well. I've teamed with some of them, and the results were OK in most cases and sometimes not as well as I'd have liked. How do I know who is a good teaming partner?

This raises an interesting topic that consultants think about but rarely talk about. If a partnership provides teaming parties more than they could get without teaming, how can I make sure that I am getting far more than just the sum of the parts? This affects small consulting firms as well as large ones. A decade ago, when the world didn't change so fast, we could take time to build relationships with prospective partners and get to know them fairly well through low risk collaboration. As engagements have become more focused, faster and require more specialized knowledge, this is getting harder to do.

Think about all the ways sports teams are created. The goal is the same as a consulting teaming partnership - assemble the right mix of talent for the job (game, conditions and opponent) at hand. You can mimic pick-up basketball where you go with the tall or muscular kid, or the kid you know. Anyone you don't know , even if they are the best player, you pick later. Compare this to a college or pro sports team. A huge amount of effort is spent getting to know every potentially available player. Coaches spend precious time learning about a player from their coaches, opponents and teammates. When the opportunity arises, they know exactly who to pick. Coaches who don't recruit well are out of a job pretty soon as the quality of their team declines.

Tip: Think about the kinds of engagements you currently pursue, or the industries or markets in which you work. What skills or experience are you missing that would give you a leg up? Who are the key players who would know the best consultants in that space? Could you talk to them to find out who they recommend as a consultant and why? Talk to those consultants now, before you need anything from them or can provide anything to them. Develop a list of the 10-20 consultants you'd like to team with when a specific opportunity arose. Keep the list updated (and establish whatever level of relationship you think appropriate). When you need that great point guard/facilitator, you'll know exactly who to choose.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  collaboration  consulting colleagues  planning  teaming 

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#28: Keeping Time Records

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, April 14, 2009
My client just wants me to track my hours on a weekly basis and submit totals with my monthly invoice. How good should my records be to track time for a client?

Tracking your work is for your benefit as well as for your client. Just because your client only wants a number of hours does not mean you should settle for this level of detail. More important than the hours you are tracking is what you did during that time. Many consultants will write on their time record nothing more than the hours worked and a cursory "interviews." This is insufficient to help you recall what you did, why or where the products of that work are now. Also, it won't help you evaluate whether your time was estimated correctly or whether you are working on the right tasks. You and your client are best served by a full accounting of work and the context for that work.

Tip: Create a tracking sheet for your own use that records five items: (1) time, (2) where you did the work (your office, client site, or other location), (3) what you did (description of the nature of the activity), (4) what value this provided in terms of the project deliverables (tie to milestones, project task, or deliverable), and (5) reference to work product produced (briefing, analysis, interviews, slide deck). You can share these with your client of not (they are sure to be impressed with your professionalism) but these make a good record for your own. Also, use them to better understand how accurate your estimated times foo future tasks.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  engagement management  performance improvement  planning  practice management  project management  recordkeeping 

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