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The 3 Things Consultants Must Consider– and Often Don’t

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If you’re a consultant, landing a new client is always exciting. Whether the contract was hard won or the referral came easily, closing a deal is energizing and affirming.

The project gets off to a great start with lots of enthusiasm but what happens on those occasions when the project suddenly hits the “messy middle” and momentum turns to mud? Consultants are often left scratching their heads when communication becomes obtuse and they face inexplicable delays.

As one who’s hired many consultants throughout the years, here’s a peek down the rabbit hole from the inside.

In large organizations if project consensus is required from key stakeholders in various departments, competing priorities will inevitably slow down the approval process.

Here’s what consultants need to know:

  1. Like you, the Project Manager is under immense pressure to stay on schedule. You may never know the battles they fight every day, so resist the temptation to assume the worst about their leadership. It may have nothing to do with their organizational skills and everything to do with the company culture or politics. They especially don’t need you to ratchet up the stress level so they feel it from both sides. Always keep things friendly and professional and look for creative ways to keep moving things forward.  

  2. If delays persist, there could be staff reshuffling, budget cuts or other internal issues that are hindering the project. Sometimes, internal staff is jealous of consultants because they feel their own talents have been overlooked. They can deliberately make things very difficult. Help your Project Manager by writing a letter highlighting the key milestones as agreed upon in the contract. Include the relevant contract sections. FedEx that letter before the schedule becomes unmanageable. This gives the PM objective ammunition to push for approvals because that letter is a legal document. Should the project implode and things end up in arbitration, you’ve protected your interests without it ever becoming personal.

  3. If your schedule allows and you can hang in until the project gets back on track, do it. The times
    when I’ve had to shepherd difficult projects to the finish line and my consultants gracefully stayed the course, I always rewarded them with special favor when the next project came around. In fact,
    I built lasting professional relationships with several of them.

Next time a project you’re working on hits a major speed bump, assume the best even as you consider your options. Learning how to successfully navigate the challenges and being a pleasure to work with sets you apart just as much as the quality of your results. As Henry Ford said, “When everything seems to be against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”

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