When it comes to delivering a successful project, there’s nothing as important as good communication between a consultant and a client. Whether you are a consultant, or a client working with a consulting firm, getting communication right is the first step in delivering a successful final product.
Of course, you’re on top of your game, which is why, when hiring consultants, your client contacted you. But hiring a brilliant consultant is one thing. Working with a consultant, and having a successful outcome is quite another. Here are my top tips for ensuring good communication.
1. It Comes From Both Sides
Many companies, when working with a consulting firm, tend to forget that they have a role in the project too. You might find, particularly with companies that don’t often hire consultants, that they hand a project to you, and then expect you to report back when you’re finished.
Make sure they understand from day one that their feedback will be required periodically, and that you will need to ask questions, request clarity, and possibly ask for assistance along the way.
2. Make Sure You Have a Contact
Communication is great, but if all your communications start with “Dear Sir or Madam” it’s very easy for them to get lost, strayed or stolen along the way.
Before you even start a project, find out who your point of contact will be (and preferably an alternate too) and get their direct line, fax and email address. That way, you can be sure your communications are reaching their targets.
3. Appoint Your Own Communicator
You may have a team of consultants working on a particular project, but it’s always better to appoint one person to be your mouthpiece.
Chances are, whoever you are dealing with at your client’s office is a busy person too, and getting calls from ten different people at your firm will probably not endear you to them!
4. Always, Always, Do it In Writing
There are so many instances where a passing suggestion or idea is implemented by a consultant or contractor, only to be told by the client that it was never requested. Then you’ve done the extra work, but can’t charge.
Or, in another scenario, you may have requested clarity, and been given a verbal instruction. Then, when things go wrong, where do you think the blame will lie? Certainly not with the executive that gave you the instruction!
Even if instructions, comments or requests are made verbally, it’s easy to send a follow up email, along the lines of: “As per our discussion today, we will be implementing X change to the project, which will amount to an additional charge of Y.” This protects both you, and your client, since they then have the option to cancel, or alter the verbal instruction, and you have recourse when payment time rolls around!
5. Regular Reports and Meetings
The best way to keep your finger on the pulse, especially on long term projects, is to formalize the process, and submit regular written reports to key role players. This keeps everyone aware of progress, problems and other issues, and highlights anything that may need attention.
Meetings are another great way to do this, and can actually combine well with reports. If meetings are minuted every week, fortnight or month, it’s a great way to address issues as they arise, and provides an easy to follow agenda for reporting.
I’ve worked on projects where communications, in the form of faxes, emails and telephone calls were flying back and forth at an alarming rate, and over time, files of paperwork and records of communications were accumulated.
As much of a pain as it can be, both for the consultant and for clients working with a consulting company, good communication does keep everyone on the same page, create a reference for future issues, and is probably the single greatest contributor to keeping a project on track, and ultimately, to project success.