Keys to Successful Consulting Projects


Technical consultants know that it takes a great deal of effort for a project to run smoothly and to culminate in successful results. You know about the intensity of planning and project management, the need to simultaneously see both the larger picture and the small details, and the need to satisfy both users and upper management. But have you ever stood back to understand what it is that makes a successful project?

“Best practices” research have been ranked on the key factors that contributed to success in a technical implementation. These factors can be applied to consulting on any type of project. Although excellent communication turned out to be the most critical factor, it was such an integral part of each project that it was not ranked.

The Six Keys to Successful Projects

Here are the six reasons I have found that implementations succeed:
1. The solution is aligned with the organization’s business objectives.
2. Executives are supportive stakeholders of the project.
3. Expectations of the project are realistic and do not change.
4. Project scope is well defined, approved by stakeholders, and effectively managed.
5. Processes for implementation are well established and scalable.
6. Project team skills are sufficient and resources are available.

Success Factor 1: Solution is aligned with organization’s business objectives

To achieve this success factor, identify your client organization’s business objectives from the start. Why are they choosing to implement this solution? What do they need to achieve? What are their priorities? It is important to understand your client’s objectives. To do this, try the following approaches:

  • Go back and study the Request For Proposal and your proposal’s solution.
  • Get as much information from client representatives as possible. Use teleconferences when in-person meetings cannot be arranged. Word of mouth will generally surface more issues than the written word.
  • If you have a sales team, learn as much as possible during transition meetings when the project is handed off from sales to tehnical consultants.
  • Ask your client if there are any ‘hot buttons’ and encourage open communicaiton about these issues.

Success Factor 2: Executives are supportive stakeholders in the process

  • It is imperative that your client’s senior management is involved at some level, both initially and throughout the project. Then when a problem arises, or a critical decision needs to be made, the executive can be contacted.
    Identify the hierarchy of authority within the organization and how much authority the client project manager has and does not have. It is important to identify the real decision-makers.
  • Every organization has at least one individual who is a catalyst for getting things done. Identify this person and develop a rapport with the individual.
  • If the project sponsor is not the action person mentioned above, speak with the sponsor about how decisions can be made quickly. Don’t hesitate to ensure your sponsor knows you may, on occasion, need his or her advice or decision-making authority.
  • Keep your project sponsors and stakeholders informed. Meet with them on a regular basis and copy them on status reports.

Success Factor 3: Expectations of the project are realistic and do not change

Managing expectations is very critical to the actual success of a project and its perceived success. Once you have been awarded a project, expectations are difficult to reset, especially if the project’s scope is considered to be less than the original expectation. Regardless, the project manager must manage customer expectations. Even intangible expectations, such as the number of hours worked or the expertise of the consultants should be discussed with the client.

  • Ensure there are no surprises. Be realistic and honest. Nothing is ever gained by keeping things from the client.
  • Expectations can be managed by identifying the deliverables and by specifying what is not included.
  • Periodically review expectations with the client.
  • Documenting agreements and obtaining signoffs is always a good idea.
  • Maintain a positive attitude!

Success Factor 4: Project scope is well defined, approved by stakeholders, and effectively managed

As you have probably experienced, scope “creep” often occurs on a project. If the initial groundwork is done to define expectations and scope, it becomes easier to fend off scope expansion.

  • See that project deliverables are quantifiable when possible. Discourage ambiguity, be specific and try to have deliverables defined in a measurable way.
  • If changes in scope do occur, ensure they are reflected in the Project Plan. Changes in scope have a real impact that should be identified against the baseline.
  • Get a signoff on the baseline Project Plan.
  • The first and last task that typically gets eroded during an implementation is the testing. Technical projects need time in the plan for complete and thorough system and integration testing.

Success Factor 5: Processes for implementation are well established and scalable

No two project managers will implement a technical project in the same way. Technical consultants must often improvise, since every client, project and resources vary. Always talk to client managers that have a proven track record. Find out what works and what doesn’t work within the organization. Modify approaches for smaller projects and enhance for larger projects.

  • Use the structure of consistent implementation methods to ensure success.
  • Obtain buy-in on the implementation methods you will use and always discuss these with the client.
  • Help the project team by defining the terminology used in the implementation and in the description of deliverables. For example, you can define the document, system testing, etc. Common terminology builds a strong foundation for the project.
  • Keep Things Simple. Don’t get caught in the trap of overdoing things. For example, don’t make extensive documentation or too many meetings a requirement if they are not required. Your client will appreciate any money-saving methods you can use.

Success Factor 6: Project team skills are sufficient and resources are available

Managing a successful project requires much discipline. There are times when the success of a project may require the project manager to seek a replacement for a team member. Take care of this situation when it becomes evident. Don’t procrastinate.
If your role is Project Manager, commit to the task of management. Don’t drift into micro-managing an implementation where you have proven expertise.

  • Wherever possible, get involved in the selection of the team. Review resumes and experience, as well as interviewing the candidates. Be sure to match the project scope and tasks to each person’s skill set and vice-versa.
  • It is not only critical that each team member has fits in well with the team, it is important that team members fit well with each other.
  • Through your experience, you should be able to anticipate problems. Counsel others as needed and help team members develop new skills.
  • If you can obtain a solid commitment from team members, the project should run more smoothly.

Leave a Reply