When a consultant begins a client project, there is a desire to keep a laser-beam focus on that project. It seems logical. Whether you are managing the project or simply a cog in the great wheel, that project should be the one and only thing to focus on.
However, it is likely that that client project is one of many efforts in progress for your client. And those efforts almost certainly are interrelated with your project.
The division you serve
The client manager that you report to has a vested interest in the project you’ve been assigned to. And she wants you to keep your attention trained on your project. That is after all what you were hired to do.
This client manager probably has multiple projects going at the same time. And while you were hired to work on one project, it is important to have some awareness of the other projects in her portfolio. She will need to balance priorities between these projects. Having knowledge of those projects and their priorities is a great way to assist her and to balance priorities among them.
The stakeholders they serve
If you work in an organization of any significant size, the division you serve probably has internal customers. Regardless of whether your project creates deliverables for those stakeholders, it is important to know your client’s stakeholders. Knowing how they serve them and how that service is evaluated can help you help the client balance priorities.
For instance, say you are on a project that is developing a software application. This application is scheduled to eventually provide value to their stakeholders in several months. But a production issue occurs on one of your client’s existing software applications which is impeding their ability to serve their stakeholders. You and your team have skills that could help them resolve the production issue.
You could argue that you need to stay focused on your own project. That is what you were hired to do. But if you have some skills that could help your client resolve the issue, it might benefit your client, as well as your firm, to help out. It may set your project back, causing additional work. But your client may appreciate your sacrifice. And the goodwill you create could be paid back many times over.
The division’s peers within the organization
Outside of the internal stakeholders in the organization, your client’s division has to work with many other peer divisions within the company. While none of the teams are beholden to each other, they all need to play nice with each other.
Even in the most political and backbiting of cultures, peer teams know that they need to stay on each other’s good side in order to accomplish their own goals in the long term.
Learning the “lay of the land” and understanding how each division relates to the other can help your client maintain control and avoid political landmines.
I once had a client whose infrastructure team had a reputation for being uncooperative. I made a point of working cooperatively with them and providing unsolicited favors on occasion. As a result, my client’s division received better attention from the infrastructure team than they normally would have.
Other outside consulting firms
Many client projects comprise a complex mix of employees, contractors, and consulting firms. You may find yourself sitting next to a consultant working for a competing firm.
The client is merely composing a team and doesn’t care where the consultants come from. Competing consultants on the same team need to focus on working together to make the client successful.
Sabotaging a competitor’s work will sabotage the project. This will hurt your long-term chances of success with that client.
Consultants need to figure out how to work cooperatively to make the client successful. While you may feel like you’re helping the enemy, you will be focusing on the client’s priorities as well as your own.
Any project of significant size has a responsibility to report periodic status to the executive level of the client’s company. The consultant is often given that responsibility.
The client manager that you report to may have career goals that have some conflict with the executives to which she reports. Understanding any conflict will allow you to help the client balance priorities accordingly.
This will help your client achieve a balance that will translate to success for the client manager as well as the organization as a whole.
Corporate politics is nothing more than an environment where conflicting priorities exist. It is rare for a consultant to work for a client without politics. Helping your client navigate those conflicts and balance priorities throughout the organization will help the client be successful.
And we all know that helping the client be successful, is the best way for a consultant to be successful.
Have you ever had to help the client balance priorities?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
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