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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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#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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#620: Tame Your To-Do List

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, July 29, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 29, 2011
Professional services like consulting and law generate lists of tasks that never seem to decline. Especially if you are running a litigation team or consulting practice, it is like two steps forward and three steps back. How do you get through the day without being pulled in all directions?

There are two issues - your inbox and your outbox. Logic, and a lot of time management techniques, focus on the path between the boxes. Presumably, if we work faster, the inbox pile magically becomes the outbox pile. Improvements like delegation, streamlining and parallel processing (all familiar to operations consultants) dispense with your work faster and hopefully better.

However, consider a different approach - constraining the size of your inbox. This probably horrifies most consultants trying to market and sell, serve their clients and manage the practice. There's just too much to do! Well, consider what happens to many of the tasks that move from one To-Do list to the next To-Do list, some of which are finally abandoned. We know urgent and important are not the same thing, but how are we going to set priorities, execute with discipline and feel like we have had a productive day (week, month, year)?

Here is a clever idea - adopt the open and closed task list concept. Basically, you create a list of tasks for the day and once done and affirmed, the list is closed for the day. Any new tasks that come up (with consideration for different job types and how much of your job is responding to emergency requests) go on another day's list. This really forces you to trade off the urgency and importance of tasks and, when they can't go on today's list and there is no room compared to other tasks on tomorrow's list, many tasks may disappear without ever landing on any list.

Tip: If It Won't Fit On A Post-It, It Won't Fit In Your Day discusses this intriguing approach. I suggest you adopt this for a week or two to see how well it enforces the discipline needed to manage your inbox. Combined with the time management tips to dispense with tasks once they have landed in your inbox (on your post it note), you will be able to say "no" more often with minimal impact on your productivity or effectiveness.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  efficiency  planning  practice management  project management  time management  your consulting practice 

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#433: Get Your Online Life Back

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I spend a fair amount of time online, with a lot of time attending to social media, email, web-based or database research and quantitative analysis. Most of this is presumably productive, but what is a "right amount?"

There is no "right" amount because each of these activities may be highly productive for your particular consulting practice. It is easy to feel like any one of these is "too much" because, compared to the past, you are spending much more time on that activity. How much time did you spend 15 years ago on email? Is what you spend now too much or too little? New web applications, new distractions, and new resources can skew our appreciation for what is really most useful.

Consider RescueTime, an application that intelligently tracks what applications you spend your time with, including where you spend most of your time surfing. It has a really clever feature, called Focus Time," in which you set a time during which it will warn you if you stray off your chosen task (to, say, respond to that "urgent" instant message, or "quickly" look up something on a website - that lasts 5 minutes).

Tip: Before tracking your time, estimate how much time you spend throughout the day on various activities and adjust to what you think is an appropriate proportion for each. Once you get your usage data, you can see what, based on your own criteria, is too much (or too little) time spent in a given activity.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  efficiency  project management  social media  time management 

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#428: Make Sure You Don't Boil the Ocean in Your Projects

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, November 3, 2010
I've heard the phrase, "Don't boil the ocean!" from time to time, but I am not clear on its meaning.

The phrase "boil the ocean" refers to the act of "over-scoping" a project, trying to solve too large a problem, or too many problems at once), thereby making your success at effectively solving it unlikely. It can describe an attempt at achieving something that is too large in scale or way too ambitious. Finally, it often means making an effort that, even if successful, would have marginal value to a client. Attempting to "boil" the ocean is not a practical task to take on due to its sheer magnitude (and, given the Earth's oceans contain about 1.4 billion cubic kilometers, that's a lot to boil!)

Tip: Consultants can run the risk of attempting to "boil the ocean" when scoping their projects and must work with their clients to set realistic expectations and successful and timely delivery of results.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  consulting terminology  engagement management  project management 

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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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