Monday, February 4, 2008

Managing Consulting Engagements

In previous blogs, I've mentioned the importance of project management. Every IT project, no matter how large or small, needs an assigned single point of contact for the IT department who can resolve day to day project issues and orchestrate communication. As I've said, not every project needs a Gantt chart and I'm dubious about the value of centralized project management offices for IT departments, but assigning an IT project manager and using a set of standardized project management tools are very important prerequisites for successful projects.

Consulting engagements
need to be managed using the very same approach. All consulting projects need an IT project manager, a steering committee, and a project charter which documents the reason the consultants have been hired. For very politically challenging consulting engagements, the CIO can serve as the catalyst to start the project, but I do not recommend that the CIO serve as the IT project manager. The level of detail required to manage consultants requires more dedicated time than most CIOs have each day.

Here's the structured approach I recommend to manage consultants

1. Scope - All the stakeholders involved in the consulting engagement must agree on an unambigious scope for the project. The steering committee for the engagement should meet and agree on this scope before the consultants are engaged. This scope should be described in the project charter along with the governance that will be used to escalate questions about scope. Only by actively managing scope can consulting costs be controlled.

2. Deliverables - The result of a consulting engagement should be clearly described deliverables such as a finalized software product selection, a thoroughly researched whitepaper, or a comprehensive policy. The entire consulting engagement should be managed toward the production of these deliverables including interim review of drafts as often as possible. Mid course corrections of interim deliverables are always easier than a wholesale revision at the end of the process.

3. Interview Plan - Consultants, no matter how well intentioned, are disruptive to the day to day work of an organization since they need to meet with many stakeholders on an aggressive schedule to gather the information they need for their deliverables. The project manager overseeing the consulting engagement should work closely with the consultants to create a draft interview plan. This interview plan should specify the person, their role, and the questions to be answered.

4. Inform Superiors - The steering committee of the consulting engagement needs to review the draft interview plan, concur with the interview choices and ensure the managers of the interviewees are informed that the interviews will be scheduled. Typically, the project manager can send an email on behalf of the steering committee to the managers of the interviewees, so that all concerned realize the importance of the engagement.

5. Inform Interviewees - The managers of the interviewees should inform them of the purpose of the interviews and the need to schedule meetings with the consultants promptly. Urgent scheduling minimizes the cost of consultant time. The reason I prefer the direct managers to notify the interviewees is that most employees are reluctant to speak with consultants promptly unless they are told by their managers that they they can defer their other work to make time available for the consultants. Circulating a draft list of questions to each interviewee ahead of time is always helpful.

6. Conduct interviews - The interviews should be grouped by physical location to minimize consultant travel time. There are pros and cons to onsite verses phone interviews. Onsite interviews build a sense of team and establish relationships between the consultants and key stakeholders. However, onsite interviews generally require travel and hotel expense. Phone interviews are often easier to schedule and execute. Generally, we schedule the first consultant meetings with key stakeholders onsite and then followup meetings by phone.

7. Weekly deliverable check in - Every week, the steering committee (or an executive subset of the steering committee) should meet by phone to discuss the progress of the engagement and the status of deliverables. These weekly meetings are essential to rapidly resolve project roadblocks and clear up any misunderstandings.

8. Daily communication as needed - the IT Project Manager should be available to all stakeholders by email and phone to respond to daily issues as they arise. Interviews may need to be rescheduled, consultants may step on political landmines requiring escalation, and logistical details may need clarification.

9. Draft deliverable review - the entire steering committee should meet in person at a midpoint in the consulting engagement to review all the draft deliverable work and make recommendations about the final format, content, and timing of the deliverables, ensuring they align with the agreed upon scope.

10. Final communication of the deliverables and next steps - Once the deliverables are completed and reviewed by the committee, they should be broadly communicated to all the stakeholders involved in the engagement. Each interviewee will be more likely to participate in future engagements if they see the results of their input and understand next steps. After each consulting engagement, I summarize the key points from the deliverables so that everyone in the organization learns from the work and understands what we received for our money.

As a final note, I want to re-emphasize that consultants create a lot of work for internal staff, including those who manage the consultants and those who provide the documents requested during interviews. If anyone believes that consultants can simply parachute into an organization, do their work without disrupting operations, then depart, they have not been on the receiving end of a consulting engagement!


Medical Quack said...

Well said!

Amr said...

I would be very interested to hear your position on physician engagement in IT initiatives

John Halamka said...

My post tomorrow will describe one example of clinician engagements in my projects. The bottom line is that clinicians guide everything we do. I'm an Emergency Physician, my VP of Clinical Systems is a physician, my lead emergency department developer is a physician and we employ numerous nurses to lead projects.

Christine Van Tuyl said...

Have you tried SmartDraw for creating project management charts? It is easy to use and helps you create polished project management charts, gantt charts, project schedules, and more. You can also download a free trial from their website.

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