According to the McKinsey/Oxford study half of IT projects with budgets of over $15 million dollars run 45% over budget, are 7% behind schedule and deliver 56% less functionality than predicted (Bloch, Blumberg, and Laartz, 2012).
Providing value as a consultant to a client without compromising the bottom line of either the consulting company or the client is an art. Consultants deserve compensation commensurate with their level of intellectual capital gained through knowledge and expertise. Clients deserve to receive services that solve the problems consultants are engaged to disentangle. To build a strong foundation that creates a successful client-consultant relationship requires honest communication on both sides during the elicitation and analysis of requirements phase.
During the relationship-building negotiation phase, a client wants the lowest price for the least amount of hours to complete a project. The consulting company must understand what the client wants to achieve and determine if client expectations can be met within the budget and hours the client has in mind. Consultants must deliver on time, add value, and make a profit. Overcoming the challenge of immediate cost savings on the client side and the true costs for a project on the consultant company’s side is a delicate balance. A balance that if lopsided will negatively affect the success of project goals. If a consulting company accepts terms they know are unrealistic, client expectations are not met. Under promising and over delivering takes practice, wisdom, and time to perfect.
Experience is one of the keys to achieving this balance. Wise consultants understand the power of managing a client’s expectations. Professional consultants do not over promise, or suggest a client lower expectations and submit a plan that really does not provide the ideal solution. Honest communication with a client is based on showing how the consulting company’s plan will drive value, even if the price point is above the client’s initial budget consideration. Deliverables that make the client happy set a precedence for solidifying additional work, and creating a long-term, win-win relationship.
Frequently, consultants have a solution in mind before approaching or establishing a relationship. Projects are less likely to succeed when preconceptions get in the way rather than providing advice based on client needs. The preconceived notion approach is the default position for the super-salesperson who is less worried about building a long-term relationship with a client, and more concerned with short-term, new business transactions accomplished by recommending solutions du jour.
Ultimately, the key ingredient to keeping clients happy is active listening. Effective listening is a skill. Some people are skilled listeners. Many are not. Effective listening allows a consultant to accurately, communicate client project expectations and anticipate client needs.
Remember, don’t take on more than you are prepared to be held accountable for. Provide evidence-based estimates with confidence. Resist the temptation to guesstimate about what your client truly needs, and prevent your projects from becoming IT failure statistics.
Bloch, Blumberg, and Laartz. (2012). Delivering large-scale IT projects on time, on budget, and on value. McKinsey&Company. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/business_technology/delivering_large-scale_it_projects_on_time_on_budget_and_on_value