Use me effectively and don

Yes, I am a consultant, and yes, I work for one of the big-name, high-end consulting firms, and yes, my fees are in the hundreds of dollars per hour. Now for some of us in the industry, what I’ve just said is roughly equivalent to admitting that I’m in league with the devil, that I steal candy from little kids, or that I have a fondness for velvet Elvis paintings.

At some point in time your organization may need our advice and expertise (I specialize in project management, in case you wondered) and if you do there are ways to make sure that our working relationship is as successful, efficient, and cost-effective as possible.

In the interests of your money, my ulcer and our mutual success let me offer a few suggestions.

Suggestion 1: Give some structured thought to what it is you want before you call me in. The first written definition of your problem probably shouldn’t appear in my proposal letter.

I certainly can, as an example, come in to your organization at your request and do an analysis of what’s wrong (if anything) with the way your organization plans and executes projects, but the fact is that you probably already know what’s wrong, and you’d be better to spend your money with me on fixing things than in reiterating problems.

Suggestion 2: If you’re just calling us in to assess blame for a failed project (“We already know who screwed up, we just want your independent assessment to back us up”) I’d suggest that you save your money.

Suggestion 3: Expect to get what you pay for, and recognize that getting the best people on short notice for short periods of time usually means paying a premium.

If I’m on my way home from Halifax late Friday night, for example, and you call and tell me that you need me to attend a meeting with your executive group in Vancouver on Monday morning, recognize that: I’ll have to defer/reschedule anything that I already had scheduled for Monday, and this is especially tricky if I have another client or clients to keep happy that day as well.

Suggestion 4: The best consultants, the ones with the most experience, the ones who can size up and address your situation quickly, will simply cost the most – these folks can be chargeable anywhere, and they’re probably not going to work for you for less than what they can get elsewhere, even if your project is unique and attractive.

Suggestion 5: Let’s agree in advance on our criteria for success for the engagement, on what your/our performance metrics are going to be before we begin. I want to know before I start working for you what success looks like in the end, and I’ll bet you’ll want the same thing.

Let’s spend some time up front coming to an agreement on objective performance metrics – objective metrics are critical here; “If we feel good about it when we’re done” is unacceptable. These are metrics that we can both steer towards as the project progresses. You’re going to want to make sure that I’m performing to your expectations, and I’m going to want to make sure that you’re holding up your end of the bargain too.

Ken Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at