In the consulting business, it is inevitable that client engagements will at times “go off the rails” to some degree. The takeaway in that write up is that certain actions can be taken to mitigate the severity of the situation and maintain the project.
But what happens when the relationship becomes untenable and a split is warranted?
As Neil Sedaka (younger readers may have to look him up) said...
“They say that breaking up is hard to do; Instead of breaking up I wish that we were making up again”.
The easiest thing to do is point fingers and say “It’s not me, it’s you”, deflect accountability, and chalk it up to a ‘bad client’.
Just as I believe there are few bad dogs and many bad dog owners, it is rarely the case that failure to launch is a one-way problem.
Let’s face it, nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. Hindsight is 20/20.
“If we assume the project is well understood and prioritized beyond our primary sponsor, we are likely in for a surprise.”
But what the mature organization will do is an honest, unemotional evaluation of the situation, learn, and come out stronger, smarter, and less likely to endure a similar experience.
Yes, take your lumps, rip off the bandage, whatever. But don’t think you did everything right and only the client was in the wrong. Sorry buddy boy, you are both culpable.
So what are some of the key areas we should examine for improvement?
Here’s a few of the biggies:
- Were project objectives specific, measurable, attainable, results-focused and time-boxed (SMART)?
>>> Without knowing where we are going we will never know if we get there
- Was the project socialized across the client organization and key people aware of their roles?
>>> If we assume the project is well understood and prioritized beyond our primary sponsor, we are likely in for a surprise
- Were requirements gathered to sufficient detail and clearly documented?
>>> Every dark corner must have light shone upon it or certain needs will get overlooked and likely bite us later
- Did project stakeholders have appropriate input, and subsequent buy-in, to the project planning process?
>>> Avoid “It’s Not My Project” syndrome
- Was the project plan and solution strategy tied to meeting project objectives?
>>> Every task and output need to be tied directly to the end goals
- Was the project plan/schedule well-documented, with appropriate structure and detail?
>>> All team members must know what is expected and when
- Were scope changes managed and communicated properly?
>>> Course adjustments are inevitable, but cannot be done in a vacuum
- Were project team meetings efficient and effective with defined action items and decisions documented?
>>> Don’t meet just to meet. Have an agenda, objectives, and noted outcomes
- Did the project have adequate quality control?
>>> Engagement Partners, Sponsors and steering committees must clearly understand project progress and obstacles needed to be addressed
This is not an all-inclusive list.
Effective project management and ultimately client satisfaction is much deeper and encompassing.
In addition to the points above, we have to ask difficult questions, such as:
- Is the client ready to take on transformation? Some clients are just not mature enough to take on significant changes.
- Are there indicators of resistance? Sometimes key functional areas (IT, finance, customer service) push back at every opportunity.
- Do we have access to influencers? Some projects involve outside parties such as 3PLs and internal compliance or PMO teams.
- Is the outcome seen as an enabler to be a better business or just another project? There has to be community excitement espoused by leadership or the teams will not prioritize their roles.
"Some clients are just not mature enough to take on significant changes."
We all endeavor to work with great clients on perfect projects. And that happens often. But scars and gray hair tell us that there are some engagements that go sideways or even require a break up.
Remain professional, understand the realities of the situation and learn from mis-steps. In the long run, you will be a better advisor to the next client.
Dennis Heppner is a Principal at JBF Consulting. Dennis’ expertise in transportation, logistics and supply chain operations, and third-party providers spans 25+ years. His experience is broad-based, spanning entire supply chains, including business process redesign, sourcing, distribution network design, transportation management, distribution operations, outsourcing selection, and business strategy for major manufacturers, distributors, retailers including eCommerce, and service organizations.
About JBF Consulting
Since 2003, we’ve been helping shippers of all sizes and across many industries select, implement and squeeze as much value as possible out of their logistics systems. We speak your language — not consultant-speak – and we get to know you. Our leadership team has over 70 years of logistics and TMS implementation experience. Because we operate in a niche — we’re not all things to all people — our team members have a very specialized skill set: logistics operations experience + transportation technology + communication and problem-solving skills + a bunch of other cool stuff.