Project teams, charged with executing complex projects with increasingly lean resources, are leveraging project management consultants and outside experts more often. A few simple steps can help to ensure these crucial relationships are efficient and productive.
Divulge what you don’t know. If there are aspects of the project that are still pending final confirmation, be upfront about it. This helps the consultant not only begin making preliminary plans for their own resource allocations—knowing they may need to make modifications as more details become available—it also enables them to set follow-up points for critical information. If you forget to pass along additional information, they’ll know to ask for it.
Be clear about any information that is off limits. Every organization has its own secrets—confidential information that isn’t appropriate to share with this (or perhaps any) contractor. Rather than tap dance around what you can and can’t reveal, be plain about where confidentiality prohibits you from answering questions or providing additional details. If there are aspects of a project or its achievables that can’t be divulged, simply say so. Details that are commonly kept secret from consultants vary widely, and may include almost anything from future staffing plans to potential mergers or acquisitions to which other contractors were considered for the project.
Ask consultants what they expect from you. Most contracts clearly spell out the expectations placed on consultants, but remember that your Project Team has some obligations to uphold, too, though they may be less formal. Ask consultants what they need to succeed. It may be a specific type of communication (some prefer to be contacted by phone as opposed to e-mail, for example) or a particular day of the week for recurring onsite meetings. Rather than make assumptions, it’s better to simply inquire about what your team can do to facilitate an efficient relationship.
Establish multi-tiered contact lists. Providing consultants with a single point of contact has been a popular strategy, since it helps to streamline communications and eliminate message flurries that can result in confusion. However, that one individual may be unavailable—sick, on vacation, traveling through an area with spotty cell coverage, etc.—when they’re needed most. Ensure consultants are able to remain productive during these times by creating an escalation list. Contact information for several individuals should be included, with instructions on which to call if the primary contact person can’t be reached. Depending on the situation, it may also be prudent to provide contact information for your organization’s accounting or purchasing departments (occasionally consultants may work with those groups directly to obtain materials, etc.) or the legal or regulatory groups if appropriate.
Schedule meetings well in advance. Many Project Teams operate in a somewhat fluid environment, particularly when a number of external resources are working together and the internal team is minimal. Consultants frequently support multiple clients (or at least multiple projects) simultaneously, and the draws on their time may be far wider in scope than those tasks that are visible to you and your team. Provide as much notice as you can about upcoming meetings so they’re able to attend.
Include the consultant in strategic conversations. Strive to loop consultants in on strategic discussions, decision-making meetings, and even brainstorming sessions. Consultants are valued for their expertise and experience—use it! They can often help guide the evaluation of various options and counsel the team on the feasibility of specific approaches to difficult problems.