Delivering successful projects is at the core of any consulting business. But with project environments becoming increasingly complex, consultants need to attend carefully – and consistently – to every stage of the project delivery cycle, from setting the right scope, assigning resources, through to achieving the deliverables and milestones.
According to recent research from the Project Management Institute, close to 10% of every investment in projects is wasted due to poor project performance. Meanwhile, dozens of studies over the years have warned that over half (or even around two-thirds) of projects fail to meet (all) of their objectives.
For consulting firms, optimising project delivery is at the heart of what they do – that’s how they deliver their client promise and get their glowing testimonial, and down the line continue to build their business.
Below is an outline of how consulting firms can structure their project management process in order to be successful in project delivery. A round-up of the six pillars for great project implementation:.
1. Realistic & measurable milestones for the project
This may seem obvious. But broken down, it means determining a set of project milestones, even small ones, and measurement criteria agreed upon by all players before any work begins. You will learn at the outset who your sources of information will be, and ensure their availability to support the work. This is one area where automation technology can help.
Establishing the right milestones helps to assure early wins for everyone involved. Schedule a kickoff meeting and regular status meetings to track progress. This way, your project team can show value quickly while getting to know the client organization. Similarly, the client gains confidence with every expectation met, paving the way for constructive dialogue as true problem-solving gets underway.
2. Clear & regular communication
Consultants set themselves apart when they provide consistent, easy-to-consume updates, line out exactly what they need in any requests for information, and respond immediately when questions or problems arise.
And while it is natural for experts to default to industry terminology and assume a basic level of audience familiarity with technical language, the most useful communications speak clearly to a broad, non-technical audience.
3. Accurate timekeeping
Outstanding project delivery encompasses more than the client’s end product. Accurate internal documentation, especially about time, is critical for your organization’s future project success and profitability.
Successful consultants have good systems for tracking time all the way through the project pipeline, from identifying and pursuing an opportunity through bidding, winning, and executing the project. A complete account of time tells the true story of a project’s profitability and becomes management’s best tool to inform future pursuit, estimates, and work plans.
4. Quality assurance
Quality assurance is easier to deliver in a small project team, where team members work closely to build upon one another’s efforts. Larger projects and teams demand a more defined process for quality assurance.
Mistakes or near misses from past projects can suggest natural quality checkpoints on new projects. Build third-party review into milestones at each phase to ask critical questions and improve clarity.
5. Timely reporting
Access to reliable, real-time information about all aspects of a project’s progress can mean the difference between a clean, successful delivery and a messy, delayed project failure. This is another area where a project management tool will help – by providing data at both the project level and for the company as a whole (as opposed to just company-level financials.) a project management tool also provides instant access to different aspects of project status to support critical decisions on the fly.
The best project managers set clear expectations about what information to report, from what systems, and how and when they need it. Whether it is tracking time and resources, ensuring the team is on schedule or even making sure hours are billed to and paid by the client, timely reporting informs good decisions when corrective action is in order.
6. Effective collaboration
A small, tight project team is collaborative by nature. Teams like this replicate successful projects because transparency is relatively easy when just a few people are involved.
More complex projects and larger teams call for intentional collaboration and project management sets the tone for how team members collaborate. Visibility is a vital tool— ideally, all players can see (and understand) project data and reports, and participate in decisions about how best to move forward.
Checklist for project management delivery
To be successful in project delivery, consultants should ensure that several key items of the masterplan are in place. A checklist:
- Make sure there is a solid project management methodology and plan in place – with external dependencies and constraints clearly documented.
- Have team members – who will implement the project – create client estimates and have a peer review if possible.
- Take extra time to ensure that client requirements are documented, tied back to business needs, reviewed with client and include sign-off.
- Be sure that all subcontractors have separate, thorough, and clear project management plans – especially around effort and cost estimates.
- Create a communication plan that includes a schedule for an internal kick-off meeting, a client kick-off meeting, project status meetings, and client meetings. Publish minutes for each of those meetings.
- Clearly define an escalation path or process for the project.
- Ensure a formal process to hear and capture client satisfaction for deliverable quality, project communications, technical ability, and more.
- Set up weekly meetings to review the plans and update status with key team members.
- Create a process for team members to bring up issues, risks, questions, and change requests. Assign issues to specific individuals who track actions and closures. Monitor the impact on project scope, time and cost.
- Build a project organization chart that includes all players – including the client and third parties.
- For each project, establish a RACI chart that clearly defines who is: responsible (R), accountable (A), consulted (C), and informed (I).
- Develop a contingency plan to anticipate key resource turnover.
- Double-check to make sure the team’s technical skill sets are deep and broad enough to deliver the project.
- Leverage a scalable project management platform and software that gives time and resources back to profitable activity.
- Evaluate your project using a matrix of project, financial and resource data. Identify what you would have done differently. Remember, the difference between good and great is in the details.