One of the most critical consulting skills is communication. A good consultant needs to know when to communicate, when not to, and the most effective way to do it when it is necessary.
The communication consulting skill
Knowing how to communicate includes knowing the right format – do I email this guy, call him, or schedule a face-to-face? Once you figure out the best approach, you need to plan out the correct words that make your communication diplomatic, but direct enough for the situation.
This is a tough skill to master, but most successful consultants develop it quickly. A consultant’s job is a combination of advisor, project manager and sales rep. All of these roles are communication-intensive and a consultant needs to master communication skills early in one’s career.
Passing the communication skill on
The real challenge is facilitating communication with others. As an example, imagine you are managing a project in a consulting environment. The team consists of client employees, members of your firm along with a sprinkling of independent consultants.
Your job is to bring them all together to meet the project objective. If an independent consultant is working on a task that one of the client employees needs to have completed before she can begin on her next task, it’s important to make sure the independent consultant communicates his status to her.
You can micro-manage it and check in with the independent consultant every couple of hours to ensure that as little time is wasted between tasks. But the interruptions, as well as the annoyance you generate, may end up delaying the task longer than necessary.
A much better approach is to first, impress upon the independent consultant that his task is a dependency for the next person’s work, explaining that it is imperative that he let her know as soon as he is done. Then, schedule a checkpoint at a time where he can provide an update whether he will meet his estimate or can let you know if he’s running ahead or behind schedule.
This is easy when there is only one task depending on another. It begins to get a little hairy when multiple tasks depend on many others.
Enter: The daily stand-up meeting. The daily stand-up is a product of the Agile project management methodology, but you don’t have to adapt an Agile approach to utilize this tool. The great thing about the daily stand-up meeting is that for 15 minutes per day, you bring the whole team together – either in person, via conference call, or some combination – to update the whole team on where you are on your tasks in a quick meeting that is high on information and low on disruption.
It’s important for the lead consultant to facilitate it such that the participants don’t go into too much detail of their tasks, but instead, provide a quick update on their status. I usually go around the room when the team is all physically present, but you can just as easily go down a list of names for remote participants.
Once the team gets into a groove, the stand-up meeting participants begin reporting rather rapidly, reporting what they accomplished yesterday, what they plan to accomplish today, where they stand regarding their target completion, and reporting anything that is blocking them so that the rest of the team can provide any assistance.
One caveat to keep in mind: the frequency of the daily stand-up can give team members the idea that communicating between meetings is unnecessary. It is the responsibility of the lead consultant to make sure that tasks completed – and any other status updates for that matter – are communicated throughout the day via email, phone or face-to-face rather than making team mates wait for the next stand-up meeting.
Have you increased communication via the daily stand up?
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As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
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