Working with consultants is unfamiliar to many project managers and project team members. But, if you do it right, you will get the best possible value from your organization’s investment. So, how do you work with consultants?
I was a Project and Program Management consultant for 12 years and have consulted less formally for the last 20. So, that’s over 30 years of experience, on which to base my advice.
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This is learning, so, sit back and enjoy
Working with Consultants, Stage 1: Before You Hire Your Consultants
First things first. Take the time internally to carefully define what you need, so that you can issue a clear and precise brief. This will help your potential consultants to propose specific solutions and to price them accurately.
Always evaluate the proposals against the brief first. Treat any off-brief elements separately. Assess them carefully: has the consultant suggested something you need, or is it merely a nice-to-have?
If the consultants will be working on your site, among your people, then it is also a good idea to evaluate the personalities, attitudes, and culture of the consultant or consulting team. Meet as many people as you can.
Working with Consultants, Stage 2: At the Start of the Consulting Engagement
You will be paying your consultants for the work they do, which you have commissioned. And you should consider their formal proposal as a part of their contract to you. But, it pays to issue precise, formal instructions, in writing.
And brief the consultant or team fully, either before they start or as part of a kick-off session.
From your instructions and the brief, develop an ‘evidence procedure’. This is a set of measures against which you will measure their performance. Share it with them, so they know clearly what success looks like.
Now set up effective reporting procedures, that include:
A process for ad hoc reports in the instance of exceptions
And finally, make sure you cover all your admin efficiently. You don’t want to be wasting their time dealing with your admin, like getting access passes.
Working with Consultants, Stage 3: During the Consulting Engagement
The most important thing during the engagement is to work collaboratively with your consultants, and see them as part of your wider team. Build a relationship that helps you work together as effectively as possible.
The next thing to look out for is changes to their brief – which can be costly.
If you do need to change things, make your decisions internally and document them.
And have a formal internal process for issuing new or revised instructions. This needs to align with any contractual variation order process. Once again, ensure any instructions you issue are precise.
Working with Consultants, Stage 4: Letting Your Consultants Go at the End of the Engagement
It’s vital that you avoid becoming dependent upon consultants or, if they are on a rolling contract, you don’t forget to release them, when they have done the work you need of them. Neither:
allow them to be a crutch that avoids you properly delegating to your own staff, nor
allow them to find ways to overstay their welcome.
Before they leave, however, be sure to debrief them thoroughly, so you can harvest any knowledge, methods, or insights that they have accumulated. Often, this stuff is gold-dust.
And, once again, get the exit admin right, being sure to remove any passes or access keys from them.
And maybe consider changing security codes!
The Most Important Thing about Working with Consultants…
Finally, the most important thing is to be a well-informed client. Ask questions and make sure you understand everything – especially before agreeing to a recommendation that you don’t initially understand fully.
I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.