How to Get the Most out of a Consultant Partnership, aka How to be a Good Customer

In Best Practices, Change Management by Andy Yang

Good companies view sales not as a one-way transaction, but as a partnership with an agreed upon exchange of value.  It’s clear that consultants need to deliver value quickly but it’s not always as clear what the customer’s responsibilities may be.  Ultimately every customer is unique.  But what should be established from the outset of any project is a strong understanding of expectations from both sides in order to make the project as successful as possible.  We collected just a few “best practices” for the customer side of things that really make our lives easier but more importantly help us as consultants deliver even more value to the customer.

Decisions, decisions:  Our job as consultants is to bring our wealth of experience, expertise and best practices to you, but the customer must assist with the decision making process.  Every organization should understand how decisions are made in their company – who owns what decisions and how they make them?  Who should be involved?  Are decisions consensus driven? Efficient decision-making is key to making a project move more smoothly and is one of the main drivers for delay in the project.  Getting the right people involved early almost always is a best practice.

Single point of contact:  Having a single point of contact is always preferable.  This is the ‘go to’ person with whom we can work to navigate the organization and create the solution that will solve the most critical business problems.  Having someone ‘on the inside’ helps us juggle sometimes conflicting feedback and to manage the businesses’ true priorities better.

Stakeholders:  In any project there are lots of stakeholders.  There are the users (will they rebel or adopt the changes), there are the line managers (who must adopt themselves while pushing others to use the system), peripheral users affected by the changes (finance, compliance, engineering, etc.), IT/Admin (who may have to own the solution) and of course the executives.  Any of these roles may “torpedo” the project causing rework and wasted time.  Stakeholders should be brought in early during the requirements process and participate fully in the review cycle.  Some customers will identify a particularly influential and knowledgeable group to “guinea pig” the solution on.  Not only will you get great feedback but also they will become your advocates during the change management process.  No one wants a surprise.

Ownership:  Someone has to own the solution ongoing.  This person should have a vested interest in the project’s success and will take ownership of the changes.  This responsibility should be compelling enough to drive project success: ensuring that the right stakeholders are in agreement every step of the way and that decisions are being made.  In addition, they should take the responsibility of owning the solution once the consultant(s) has finished.  Ownership includes owning the technology and the process.  Preparing to own the solution is an important task.  There’s no better time to learn while doing than while the consultant is there; it’s a best practice to start taking on some of the administrator role.  It makes the consultant more efficient but more importantly helps the owner get used to taking on the responsibilities.  If no such person is identified (whether he or she is internal or outsourced) then there’s definitely risk unless you account for it.

These are just a few of the high level best practices.  We’d love to hear some of your other ideas as well.