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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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#46: Different Types of Review Processes

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Monday, May 11, 2009
What is a "Murder Board"?

When a project management function wants to subject a project to intense scrutiny, it convenes a group of experts to try to find faults in the scope, sequence or content of the project plan. This can be applied to a project plan, a summary of findings or recommendation for implementation. The "murder board" is a term often used for the team convened to see if they can push hard on a project plan to see where it will break. This process goes by other names, depending on the subject of the scrutiny and type of firm in which it is employed. For a hard review of a proposal, it is usually called a "red team." Some consulting firms call final briefing reviews "gauntlet drills."

The process is presumed to have gotten its start in the middle ages where the Church appointed a "devil's advocate" in proceedings to determine if an individual was worthy of sainthood. It was this person's job to find any and all fault with the candidate, legitimate or not, to defeat canonization. This set a high standard and required an irrefutable case to proceed. Presumably, by this logic, if one can't find anything bad, then the subject of an inquiry must be good.

Tip: The complexity and severity of a rigorous review process should correspond to the consequences and risks of the plan or product being reviewed. For a simple, short-term project with minimal risks, the reviews can be cursory. For a complex engagement plan for a major multi-year project, you may want to convene a team made up of members of your own practice as well as representatives from other practices in your firm or specialists from outside the firm. Regardless, you would do well to craft a protocol for the criteria and process for your own project or product reviews. Build a book of these over time to handle each type of project plan, client briefing, or implementation plan you provide to clients.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting terminology  planning  process  proposals  quality 

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#38: Do You Believe Your Client?

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I am just finishing up an engagement where the scope grew significantly beyond what was initially specified. I think I managed this well but attribute the scope creep to my client sponsor not giving me a true picture of the company's circumstances. How can I reduce the likelihood this will happen again?

We initially take on faith a prospect's assessment of their need and their expectation of the scope of our services and project outcomes. If this is additional work for an existing client, then your due diligence is relatively easy. If this is a potential new client, then before you sign an engagement letter, it is your responsibility to conduct your due diligence. IMC's Code of Ethics says that "Before accepting any engagement, I will ensure that I have worked with my clients to establish a mutual understanding of the objectives, scope, work plan, and fee arrangements." We are obliged to fully understand, from our own knowledge, not just the assertions of the client, of what the engagement is about.

Clients, even the most perceptive and experienced, present the issues as they see them. Experienced consultants know that the presenting issue is rarely the core issue and that there is often more than "just one issue." Our job is to size up the true issues before we agree on a work plan.

Tip: We always learn as the engagement proceeds, but we need to take the time to investigate the client's company, market and current issues before we sign the engagement letter. Pay for a research report, talk to your colleagues, and ask to talk to client staff.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  customer understanding  engagement management  ethics  meeting preparation  proposals 

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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 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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#24: Do Your Prospects Know What You Are Talking About

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, April 9, 2009
I recently won a competitive bid and my client showed me some redacted text from some of the proposals she received. Several proposals had so much jargon that they were practically unintelligible, even to an experienced consultant. Why can't we just speak cleanly?

Jargon developed by a profession or industry is intended to have specific and unambiguous meaning to members of that profession. In many disciplines, this terminology has been developed with rigorous review and is eventually institutionalized with uniform meaning. In consulting, there is an inherent tendency, and not always in the profession's best interest, to create new approaches, principles, techniques and practices. The problem is that these are too often developed as commercially oriented products or book titles with names like "The Four XXXXs" or "The YYYY Matrix." The intent is to make these concepts distinct, not commonly understood.

Truth be told, we use jargon when we can't explain something in plain language. If we are talking to another consultant, jargon may or may not even be clear, depending on our respective disciplines. Your client, despite their use of consultants and their background in management, may be unclear what you are talking about. What does "we offer convergence-oriented facilitation for growth-minded businesses" mean?

Tip: Give your proposals and reports to someone in business, but not consulting, to review. Ask them if they really know what you are talking about, whether their explanation and your intent match, and how they might rephrase your words in plain English. You don't need to do this for all your written products or presentations - one or two will give you the feedback you need. Don't assume that you are entirely clear.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  communication  proposals  writing 

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#23: KISS Your Proposal Worries Goodbye

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Updated: Thursday, April 9, 2009
Although I try to avoid writing proposals, sometimes a prospect insists. In addition to taking a lot of time, I am often unsure whether or not I am getting off track and endangering my chances of winning the bid. Any advice?

First, no consultant likes writing a proposal. If a client requires one, and they have every logical right to do so, they should be conclusive rather than exploratory. If you are introducing yourself ("please describe your company history") or general approach to consulting ("describe how you approach consulting projects") then this is a warning sign that the client really does not know what they want or does not know how to work with consultants. It is also a sign that there may be other surprises down the road.

Second, other than a long windup about your philosophy and background, the more detail you are asked to provide, the less flexibility both you and the client will have when the project starts. Any surgeon can specify how an operation generally goes, but none are under the illusion that your case will be exactly as specified, and you sign a permission to deviate from the standard procedures per the surgeon's judgment.

Third, they really don't want to read a long proposal any more than you want to write one. Talk to your prospect about this and talk about the project until you are both very clear about the scope, sequence and content of engagement tasks. Then write a high level proposal, almost at a contract statement of work level, that should be only a few pages.

Tip: Many clients ask for a proposal without thinking it through that they are imposing work, creating unnecessary restrictions on a professional consultant's flexibility, and not using the pre-proposal time to clarify the project scope and outcomes. Show your professionalism by advising your prospect on how best to promote their interest by laying out a more focused sales and evaluation process. Even if this is a competitive proposal process, you will likely win some points by adding value even before the proposals are submitted.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  marketing  proposals  prospect 

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