@Clients; Remember Consultants Work for You – for Better or Worse
Trade and business journals are full of post-mortem studies of consultant-lead digital transformation projects that failed while offering clients cautionary tales. With several decades in tech service businesses and involvement in a wide range of projects – large and small, good and bad, successes and spectacular failures, I offer a less worn perspective for your consideration.
There are countless war stories of digital transformation fails and projects that went so wrong that names have to be changed of the people involved. One of the most famous was Healthcare.gov, the market-place site for Obamacare that cost US taxpayers a tidy $600M. By PMI standards even Healthcare.gov wasn’t a failure because it eventually did what it was supposed to do. A recent PMI survey shows only 14% of technology project are Complete Failure, which is obviously the lowest bar. Looking at other non-good measures reveals a startling percent of projects may not have been ‘complete failures’, but still went off the rails:
- 31% didn’t meet the project goals
- 43% went over budget
- 49% were late
A host of predictable reasons are cited for all this pain and suffering - among them:
- Inaccurate Requirements
- Shifting Project Objects
- Unexpected Risk
We could cite a lot more operation-level causes, but let’s look at the higher-level reasons why good projects go so, so wrong.
Every digital transformation failure or frustrated project can trace back to a lack of leadership and direction. And that leadership and direction has to come from the clients that set the project in motion, and will live with it when the consultants move on.
As a consultant, I know this sounds like passing the buck, but the unavoidable fact is consultants and agencies work at the direction of clients. If clients don’t go into a project with a clear sense of what they want and stay engaged throughout, the project will fail in some substantial way – over-budget, late, missing functionality, diminished performance, etc.
The best consultants do their best work with ongoing direction and client involvement. I realize the whole reason clients hire consultants is to provide skills and expertise they don’t have, but all that skill and expertise serve clients’ business or other goals of the company. No one knows clients’ business and goals better than the clients themselves. There are a lot of ways to design and build a digital experience, and picking the right fit depends on the consultant fully understanding the client’s goals while evaluating and making decisions throughout the process.
It’s critical that a consultant makes it easy for clients to stay engaged and provide clear direction. Our success or failure depends on it. The best project team from a consultant has skilled subject matter experts and organized and efficient project management. The other critical element of a successful team is effective client services to be the conduit for the client and business owner and the project team.
The client and project team need to count on client services to:
- Have deep understanding of client goals and keep them front-and-center with the project team
- Help clients ask the right questions to the team to make sure the work stays focused on serving the business goals
- Translate the technical options and benefits so clients clearly understand what is under consideration and ensure the right decisions are made that serve the business need
- Ensure regular reporting; project status, budget burned versus percent completion
- Head-off potential problems and mediate problems that do arise
All consultants work at the direction of the client in service of their business. Clients need to embrace their role and responsibility to provide the leadership and direction for a successful project, and the consultant/project team (and especially client services) need to make it easy for the client to provide that leadership and direction.