Does Your Outside Consulting Firm Really Know You?

Working with an external consultancy offers the opportunity to leverage a slew of resources that likely don’t exist at the same level in your Project Team. But some project teams worry that an outside firm won’t really understand what the team does or how the organization operates.

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Overcoming this stumbling block requires the team to recognize the type of information the consultancy needs from you in order to move the project forward, and to acknowledge that what makes your organization unique may have little to do with successfully executing projects. By focusing on project data rather than becoming immersed in a company’s culture, the consultant will be better able to quickly assess the situation, identify potential areas for concern, and begin moving the project forward. This doesn’t mean that expectations around communications and scheduling—with end users, the executive team, or even other vendors—aren’t priorities. They will be handled as part of the project oversight but with a higher level of neutrality and less politicizing of activities and issues.

To really make the partnership successful, your team needs to develop a comfort level with your external consultant. Information transfer is essential to this relationship (and to the project’s ultimate success), and should be among the first things to happen.

What information should the project team provide to an outside consultant?

It’s often helpful for everyone to begin with a comprehensive review of the project’s current status. What is known about the project? If scope, budget, or other elements are in the throes of being finalized, let the consultant know. Data about pre-selected vendors should also be provided, along with details about any existing vendor requirements—vetting, non-disclosure documentation, etc. Also useful are aspects that are pending. Is the scope still under discussion? Has the full stakeholder list been finalized? This information gives the consultancy what they need to get started.

Which questions should your team ask an external consultancy?

It may sound strange, but team members are encouraged to query the consultant on their methodology. How does it work? How long have they been using it? What kinds of projects—duration, scope, and complexity—have they used it on in the past? By gaining a better understanding of the foundation that will underpin the team’s efforts going forward, everyone can see how their area of responsibility contributes to success. It’s also an opportunity for the team to see a new, well-tested methodology in action. The Project Team will want to learn as much as they can about how to improve their own operations for future projects.

How can you educate other stakeholders on the consultancy’s role in the project?

Most Project Teams have a subset of stakeholder groups they work with and support on a regular basis. It’s possible those people will be concerned about the addition of an outside consultant to the mix. Allaying their worries is a crucial step toward ensuring everyone involved in the project remains engaged and gives activities their full participation. It may be worthwhile to hold a briefing for stakeholders to let them know a consultant is coming on board to help with the project. Give stakeholders an opportunity to ask questions and be as candid as possible with your answers. Let them know that the outside firm will probably first focus on gathering the necessary information about the project, and that stakeholders may be queried about their roles or any resources—historical data, work disruption planning, etc.—they would normally supply. Remind stakeholders that the outside consultancy is there to augment the organization’s existing knowledge base, and should be viewed as part of the project team.

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