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10 Tips to Get the Most out of Your Consultants

How do I make my project successful? And how do I get maximum impact from my consultants?

Answers to these questions can be complex, but there are some behaviors that project sponsors can easily adopt to see an actual difference in their daily project routine.

At COMATCH, over the past six years, we have orchestrated over 3,000 projects using our global network of more than 12,000 independent consultants and industry experts. It’s part of the COMATCH way to build close relationships with the people we work with and we regularly reflect on how to strengthen these connections.

In this report, you will receive very tangible advice on how to work with consultants that you can directly implement during your next project. We will also share our consultants’ perspectives on how to ensure project success and give insight into what drives them during project engagements.

1. Good Chemistry Matters

Why do I need external help? In which department is the problem located? What kind of expertise am I looking for? Before hiring a consultant, the client has to consider all of this – without clear instructions, the consulting firm or the facilitator will not be able to find the perfect expert or team. If the client wants to be sure that the consultants’ personal qualities match those of the company, the candidates should be asked to present convincing arguments about the value they can add and why working with them would benefit the business.

With this information, the client can determine how the success of the consultants’ work will be evaluated. As a result, the consultants are much more likely to deliver what the client really needs.

Before I start a project, I like to talk to the client. It takes only a few minutes to find out if there is a professional and personal fit.

2. Consultants are Not Mind Readers 

If friction between consultants and clients arise, this can often be the result of project expectations that have not been sufficiently discussed. Project work can be much more efficient if the first hours or even days are used to talk through the basics. Never assume that something is obvious (especially at the beginning of a project). Don’t forget: the person you hired is an outsider to your business. You will benefit from their external perspective. A preliminary plan outlining each party’s understanding and vision helps to underscore the focus of the project.

"A few years ago, I signed a contract with several project goals. A week into the project, I finally met the CEO, who was not happy about my work at all –he had never seen the project goals before and disapproved of them. If we would have aligned on distinct goals with all relevant stakeholders before I started working, one week would not have been wasted."

3. Be Clear About Compensation and Scope 

In addition to agreeing on goals and end products, the general framework with consultants should include three essentials:

  1. A scope of work, e.g. listing all regions and product lines to be considered. This will give a clear baseline for what to expect and give you an early sense of the consultant’s flexibility.
  2. Discussing the consultant’s deliverables along a timeline will ensure that the project is completed on budget and on time. But make sure it is fair for both sides.
  3. Talking about compensation will prevent friction later in the project. 

Talking about money: In my opinion, a success fee is only advisable if the goals are clearly defined, measurable, and can be attributed largely to the consultant’s work.

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4. No Quality Output Without Quality Input 

It sounds simple, but it gets neglected quite often: the bigger the support, the better the result. Detailed briefings and data on the problem at hand are prerequisites for good work. The consultants need time to orient themselves and to understand the dos and don’ts. The company has the internal knowledge, the consultant brings the methodology and external data. If the company provides proper onboarding and the required data from the very beginning, they can save many weeks of work.

"It happens quite often that I have my first day on a new project and I am completely on my own—no WIFI password, no data, no dedicated time with the responsible person. It would improve my work a lot if every client set up two to three touchpoints within the first week starting on Monday morning with at least one hour of administration and one hour discussing the project focus. That is the best way to avoid false expectations and misunderstandings."

5. It's a Team Endeavor 

To make sure the consultants get all the information needed, they must know who to communicate with. They need a counterpart who is not only a contact person but is also responsible for arranging everything, especially when they are on-site. Often, it is not clear who is taking care of the consultants. Experience shows that the best contact should be someone who can dedicate 30 to 50 percent of their time to the project. In addition to that, make sure that the person is structured, experienced in leading people, and has a good network in the organization.

"I am currently on a project with no contact person–it’s disastrous. For me, it is nearly impossible to coordinate with the responsible persons. That leads to high transaction costs: I talk to too many people or to the wrong ones or I do not talk to anyone. If you sum that up, it is a lot of lost time."