One thing is true for all consultants: If there is work, there are clients. And one of our most important roles is to maintain and enhance our relationship with them. Preserving those relationships can be good for referrals and future business, as well as making the time spent on the project more enjoyable and satisfying. Here are some suggestions to help you foster those important business relationships.

Have a clear contract with your client

It is critical to have a clear understanding up front with your client about what your role is and is not. You and your client should know when the project will be over and how you will measure success. Having a clear contract improves your relationship automatically. The better the client understands your role, the better they will feel about the relationship.

Get to know your client better

All relationships are better when the individuals in the relationship take the time to know one another. Learn the client’s interests. You will likely spend many hours with the client during the project. Think about how you would like to be treated and then reciprocate.

Ask more questions

When we ask questions, we understand situations better. Make the time to ask your client how they feel and how they think, and let them share their observations regarding the progress of the project and your performance.

Be willing to say no

In many cases, clients ask us to do things beyond our capabilities or interests. When these new requests are outside the contract agreement, do not be afraid to say, “I’m just not qualified to perform this service.” Take time to understand both the client’s reason for asking as well as your ability to deliver.

Be willing to say yes

After weighing the opportunity the client offers you, say yes to the jobs that are within your capability but will require you to work a little harder than usual. The client will be grateful. The more work you do on the client’s behalf, the more valuable you become. You know the systems, the people, and the culture. Saying yes often makes the client’s job much easier.

Be a problem solver

Clients hire us to help them solve problems. The more problems we can help them solve, the better. This is almost the opposite of number four. Sometimes our activities allow us to see things that can be helpful to the client. Weigh these opportunities, and when appropriate, help (or offer to help) the client solve the problem — even if they didn’t know the problem existed.

Keep your distance

Therapists say you cannot help the family if you are part of the family. This is true for us as consultants as well. We do become more valuable the more we work in an organisation, but we need to keep our role clearly defined. Even as we build the relationships that make us successful, we need to be diligent in keeping our distance so we can continue to provide valued advice and expertise.

Stay focused

Staying focused on your contract and on your deliverables is the best thing you can do to maintain and build your client relationship. When we deliver what we say when we say we will deliver it, we build our credibility and enhance our relationships.

Be a learner

Being a learner means being open to new approaches and approaching each project with fresh eyes. Few things will turn off the client more than if you immediately snap to a solution, assuming that their situation is “just like” five others you have seen. There are always nuances that will make a difference. Take the time to inquire about them and integrate them into your solution.

Work at it

Recognise that the client relationship is part of the job. Working on the relationship will make you more successful in the current project, enhance your chance for future work, and make the project much more enjoyable.

There is really only one requirement for becoming a consultant, and that requirement is shared by all successful business ventures:

 

Provide a service for which people will pay you.

 

Everything else is in furtherance of that goal. Let’s break it down a bit.

In order to have a service to provide, you need to choose an area of specialisation where a need is not being sufficiently met, or where there is room to expand on the services that people might want. One of the ways in which you can create that sort of niche is to learn things that not many people know. What everyone else knows can only be a foundation upon which to build. You will not find specialised knowledge in an undergraduate college course, a certification program, or a conference seminar. Independent study and experience are the best ways to obtain it. A wise mentor can give you a boost in the right direction, but you need to outgrow your mentor before you can truly claim a niche.

Technical professionals, the true geeks anyway, often enjoy learning their trade — and the more esoteric the better. But they sometimes ignore the last half of the requirement: “for which people will pay you.” That means that your specialised knowledge must be applicable to the problems faced by enough potential clients to provide a reasonable demand for your services.

Furthermore, nobody will be willing to pay for your services if they don’t know you exist. Solving that problem is called “marketing.”  Marketing should always begin with the honest conviction that you can solve the prospect’s problem, and then proceed to the strategy for letting them know that. If your business proposal presents a rock solid case for the benefits they will receive from using your services, you should be able to get the contract.

But do not get discouraged if you don’t. Prospects have many reasons why they might refuse. Company policy, politics, and budget constraints can get in the way. Sometimes, they may simply have a better option available. If you did your homework and presented your case as well as you could, there is really nothing more you could have done. But there is almost always some lesson to be learned. Look for it.

Of course, landing the contract is only the beginning. To insure that the client will keep on paying you, you must deliver on your promises. If you ever surprise your client, it had better be a pleasant surprise. Doing more than you committed builds great customer loyalty.

You might find, for instance, that how you project yourself to your clients breaks out of the stereotype. Yes, you are a consultant and they are your clients, but far above that you are both humans. The typical roles assigned to each of you have evolved as a way of dealing with certain recurring concerns, but that does not mean you cannot adapt them where your specific concerns differ from the norm.

In fact, it’s almost axiomatic that by the time societal roles become well-established, they’re already obsolete.

Five years ago, no one in Ghana had heard about ITIL. Now, it seems like you can’t walk into an organisation without someone mentioning it. But despite all the buzz, many businesses don’t fully understand what ITIL is all about. Here are the highlights.

#1: ITIL stands for the Information Technology Infrastructure Library

ITIL contains a comprehensive set of best practices that are used to develop and execute IT service management. It offers a number of benefits, including increased competitive advantage through cost reduction, growth, and agility; more business efficiency through streamlining of IT processes; enhanced IT value through business and IT operational and goal alignment; and improved internal customer and user satisfaction.

#2: The organisation body that supports ITIL is located in the United Kingdom

The overall ITIL approach has been available since the late 1980s and has been published on the Internet for years. However, it was largely unknown to other parts of the world including Africa and America until a critical mass of large companies and media publications started to take notice. More than 10,000 organisations worldwide have now adopted ITIL.

#3: You can implement ITIL in stages

ITIL is not a quick and easy solution. ITIL best practices cover a large space (the width, depth and breadth of the entire IT organisation), provide many concepts and take time to understand. For anyone looking for the “silver bullet” to solve his or her IT and business problems, ITIL is not the answer. However, the investment is well worth it once the organisation is clear on how ITIL can apply  specifically, and is willing to take the time to understand the main ITIL concepts and their value. ITIL provides the main components of an IT organisation that need to be worked out in detail to fit with an IT organisation’s unique organisational structure and unique set of technology.

#4: To be successful, ITIL stresses the need for a strong executive sponsor

Implementing ITIL practices is a culture change initiative. People are going to complain about having to do things differently than they did in the past. You need a strong sponsor to push the change. If you don’t have one, don’t attempt the implementation–or look for limited success.

#5: ITIL is not project management

ITIL does not focus on creating things like projects do. Instead it focuses on delivering IT services to the company.

In synergy, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Any good chess player will tell you that one of the keys to success is the ability to recognise patterns and situations to help you identify what the best next move is. The same logic applies when looking at collaboration and the future of work.  Successful organisations follow certain collaboration principles. Below are a few practices of how Mr Solomon Adiyiah achieves collaboration at eSolutions Consulting:

 

  • Individual benefit is just as important as the overall corporate benefit (if not more important)

Do not focus on the overall corporate value and benefit when communicating collaboration to employees.  Employees care about how this will impact them on an individual basis.  How will this make their jobs and lives easier?

  • Strategy before technology

Before rushing to pick that shiny new collaboration platform focus on developing a strategy which will help you understand the “why” before the “how.”  This is crucial for the success of any collaboration initiative.  You don’t want to be in a position where you have deployed a technology without understanding why.  This can become a very costly mistake later.

  • Listen to the employee

We are always so adamant about listening to the customer, what about the voice of the employee?  When going down the collaboration road within your enterprise it’s important to make employees a part of the decision making process from step one.  Listen to their ideas, their needs, and their suggestions and integrate their feedback in your technology and strategy.

  • Learn to get out of the way

Learn to empower and support your employees and then get out of their way.  By trying to enforce and police everything you stifle collaboration within your organisation.  Some best practices and guidelines are fine to have but let your employees do what they need to do.  Managers need to learn to follow from the front.

  • Lead by example

If leaders at your organisation do not use and support collaborative tools and strategies, then why should the employees do?  Leaders are very powerful instruments to facilitate change and encourage desired behaviors. They must be visibly on board and this goes beyond just funding.

  • Integrate into the flow of work

Collaboration should never be seen as an additional task or requirement for employees.  Instead collaboration should fit naturally into their flow of work.  For example instead of having employees use multiple usernames, passwords, and log-in sites; create a “front-door” to the enterprise accessed through your collaboration platform.

  • Create a supportive environment

If your organisation focuses on rewarding employees for individual performance as the main driver of success then it will become quite hard to encourage employees to share and communicate with each other.  Why would they want to?  We see this quite often in financial services firms who promote employees to managerial roles such as VPs (and higher) simply because they brought in a lot of money.  There is nothing wrong with rewarding employees for great performance but it’s also crucial to reward and recognise teamwork and collaboration.  For example organisations can make a percentage of an employee’s bonus tied to how well they collaborate with their co-workers (some large enterprises are starting to experiment with this).  A supportive environment also means having training and education resources available for employees within the organisation.

  • Measure what matters

There are a lot of things that an organisation can measure but that does not mean that all of these things should be measured.  Focus on the metrics that matter to your organisation and the ones that are tied back to a business case.  Some organisations focus on “busy” metrics such as comments submitted or groups created.  Others focus on metrics such as engagement (defined as how connected and passionate an employee feels about the company and the work they do).

  • Persistence

Collaborative initiatives should not be pilots they should be corporate initiatives.  These efforts can certainly take time but if the organisation makes the decision that collaboration is the direction they want to go down then that’s it.  No giving up and no turning back.  Moving forward, organisations cannot succeed without connecting their employees and their information.  Making collaboration work is not an option it’s THE option.

  • Adapt and evolve

It’s important to remember that collaboration is perpetual.  It’s a never ending evolution as new tools and strategies for the workplace continue to emerge.  This means that it’s important for your organisation to be able to adapt and evolve as things change.  Keep a pulse on what’s going on in the industry and inside of your organisation.  This will allow you to innovate and anticipate.

  • Employee collaboration also benefits the customer

While customer collaboration and employee collaboration do solve very different and unique problems, employee collaboration has tremendous value to your customers.  Employees are able to provide a better experience and superior support by being able to tap into internal experts, information, and resources which can be used to help customers.  Consider a customer that is working with a support representative who unfortunately does not know how to solve the customer’s problem.  The employee however has access to the entire organisation to find the right information and share it with the customer.

  • Collaboration can make the world a better place

Perhaps the most important principle of collaboration is that it can make the world a better place.  Sure, collaboration can make your employees more productive and benefit your customers.  But collaboration also allows employees to feel more connected to their jobs and co-workers, reduces stress at the workplace, makes their jobs easier, allows for more work freedom, and in general makes them happier people.  This means less stress at home, less arguments with spouses, and more time to spend with loved ones.  Collaboration not only positively impacts the lives of employees at work but also at home.

Must small businesses deploy more advanced security best practices often associated with larger organisations?

The answer is yes.

There are three software and security service subscriptions technology consultants should insist all commercial clients adopt. These are email filtering, email encryption, and intrusion detection services. Three very necessary security services for even the smallest of firms.The evidence is compelling. As hackers and nation states increasingly value obtaining network persistence, access to valid email domains, and processing power, everyone’s network is at risk. According to a 2012 data breach investigation study quoted by the FBI agent presenting the 2013 Cyber Trends session, 97 percent of breaches were avoidable using “basic or intermediate controls,” 94 percent involved servers, and 85 percent took more than two weeks to discover. The scariest part? Some 92 percent of infections were not discovered by the victim but by a third party impacted by the victim’s breach.

Email filtering

The most popular current intrusion methods (or avenues by which hackers gain entrance to a network) are through phishing emails, email attachments, and malicious links often included within email messages. The problem of malicious links is growing as a threat due to users becoming increasingly comfortable clicking shortened URLs.

You can leverage appliance- or service-based email filtering to help remove and sanitize messages and email contents. (Barracuda Networks is an example of appliance-based email filtering, and Postini is an example of service-based email filtering.) While there’s no guarantee offloading email filtering from an in-house email server to an appliance or service will prevent all infections, doing so most assuredly transfers the responsibility to a platform better designed for the purpose while also helping keep malicious content from entering the network in the first place (assuming an email filtering device is properly DMZ’ed).

Getting started is easy. You can purchase and configure high availability on a pair of Barracuda Networks appliances, rack them in a data center, and begin reselling the corresponding services with minimal effort or skip straight to reselling Postini services. The barrier to entry is low.

Email encryption

Third parties want clients’ data. You should turn on firewall logging (if you haven’t already) to capture the evidence.

Clients send massive amounts of data via email. Not all clients (medical providers included) understand the full ramifications of distributing sensitive, proprietary, or protected information through email. You must help lead education efforts in assisting clients understand the need to encrypt sensitive email. Security gateway appliances, such as the Barracuda device mentioned above, offer the capacity to also scan email messages for sensitive information (e.g., social security numbers) and automatically encrypt messages as required.

Service costs are minimal. The cost of encrypting sensitive information more than pays for itself by avoiding the expenses associated with an information breach. The challenge is in getting clients to understand the need to pay for such additional security.

Intrusion detection

Intrusion detection is a third critical element even small organisations should implement. Programmatic, robotic network attacks are becoming more sophisticated. Even small organisations require business-class routers that run intrusion detection services as a subscription, which can be done with Fortinet and SonicWALL security appliances.

Intrusion detection services enable routers to better respond to coordinated attacks. With intrusion detection properly configured on capable security appliances, the router can automatically suspend communication with offending WAN IP addresses. Not to be overlooked, intrusion detection services also typically extend the ability to capture and log much more information regarding attempted attacks, too. This data can prove critical when assessing risks and vulnerabilities and justifying the expense of intrusion detection subscription renewals.

The project initiation phase is the critical phase within the project life-cycle. It is also called the project pre-planning phase and about stating the basic characteristics of the project. To successfully initiate a project, you need to know which basic steps to be carried out to develop a business case, undertake a feasibility study, develop a project charter and others.

Here are the basic steps of the project initiation phase:

 1. Create a Business Case.

A business case document is the formal start of the project when the project sponsor or the project initiator gives a description of the business problem/opportunity. The project is to be initiated to address the problem or provide alternative solutions. The business case document will include the business problem and potential costs associated with the project implementation.

2: Make a Feasibility Study.

A feasibility study is a research conducted to determine whether the project can be accomplished and to identify the likelihood of the alternative solutions. The feasibility study investigates whether the benefits stated in the business case can be delivered. It also depicts relationship of business costs with the project solutions.

3. Develop Project Charter.

Once the business problem/opportunity and possible solutions have been identified, your next step is to develop a project charter which is the critical document of the initiation phase. The project charter essentially describes what your project sets out to solve the business problem, and what the boundaries of the project will be. It specifies the project vision, goals and objectives, scope and boundaries, deliverables and expectations, project organisation and an implementation plan.

4. Assign Project Management Team.

The project charter is developed so you can proceed with identifying human resources required for delivering the project and achieving its goals. You will need to appoint the management team which will take the primary responsibility for the planning and implementation of your project. The Project Committee should be established and the project manager should be assigned. Then the project manager will work on recruiting the project team and making project assignments. Once the team is recruited and assignments are made, the project initiation phase is almost finished; only one step is ahead.

5. Perform Project Review.

Your last step to take through the project initiation phase is about reviewing your project. A review stage should be conducted to ensure that the project is successfully initiated – this means all of the initiation activities are completed. Once the project is reviewed, the project planning phase will be.

Supplier management is the process that ensures that suppliers produce value for the money that purchasing
organisations spend on their goods and services. ITIL gives specific best practice guidance regarding what an
effective supplier management process does in an organisation. With supplier management, there are numerous
simple things that an organisation can do to improve supplier performance. This blog discusses five of those
things, which are:
• Consider how your organisation appears to your suppliers
• Establish clear supplier performance targets
• Categorize suppliers
• Establish clear accountability
• Engage suppliers in change management

1. Consider How Your Organisation Appears to Your Suppliers

An organisation should care about how it appears to its supplier because modern-day supplier management is
about strategically partnering with suppliers to generate the most value at an acceptable cost. To be successful,
organisations must accept that they and their suppliers are working towards common purposes and goals. If an
organisation’s suppliers share this viewpoint and recognize that both the supplier and the buying organisation
can benefit from improvements, efficiencies, and partnering, then the relationship with the supplier is likely to
be stronger and have a greater positive impact on business results.

2. Establish Clear Supplier Performance Targets

When a purchasing organisation contracts with a supplier to purchase goods and services, it is critical that the
contract define specific measures and set achievable targets for those measures.

Targets established in contracts with suppliers should be SMART. The best supplier performance targets meet
these criteria:
• Specific. The target is clearly identifiable and unambiguous
• Measurable. It is possible to collect measurements against the target
• Achievable. The target can actually be met
• Relevant. The target pertains to the goods and services described in the contract
• Time-bound. The target has a useful time component
It is one thing to establish clear supplier performance targets in a contract; many organisations do exactly that.
However, it is another thing to regularly review supplier performance against those targets and to use that
information to help improve the supplier’s delivery of goods and services. Fewer organisations do the latter.

3. Categorize Suppliers

ITIL describes four categories of suppliers:

Strategic suppliers
These are suppliers that provide goods and services that are a key aspect of the purchasing organisation’s over-
all delivery of services. Strategic suppliers are very important to the purchasing organisation’s ability to remain
competitive and effective and are more closely managed. Purchasing organisations should work very closely
with strategic suppliers

Tactical suppliers
Tactical suppliers are those with whom an organisation conducts a significant amount of business activities
but, due to having a lesser impact on the purchasing organisation’s services, they are likely to be managed at a
lower level in the organisation. Similar to strategic suppliers, tactical suppliers are likely to be regularly managed
and subject to a program of ongoing improvement of their quality.

Operational suppliers
These suppliers provide services that are of less value and importance than either tactical or strategic
suppliers. Operational suppliers are likely to be managed less stringently than strategic and tactical suppliers and at a
lower level in the organisation.

Commodity suppliers
Commodity suppliers provide services that are of low value or are easily replaced with other offerings in the
market.

4. Establish Clear Accountability

Accountability with respect to supplier management shows up in many ways. First, when a purchasing
organisation establishes a contract with a supplier, it is critical that all necessary accountabilities are clearly defined
in the contract. Second, it is critical for success that the purchasing organisation uses one consistent voice to
communicate with its supplier.
Purchasing organisations should establish a clear “point of contact” for each supplier who owns the relation-
ship between the purchasing organisation and the supplier. Without clear ownership in place, suppliers will
often arrive at different arrangements with different parts of the purchasing organisation, which can result in
significant confusion about the level of service that the supplier is committed to providing. It also results in no
centralised management or accountability for supplier-related performance improvements.

5. Engage Suppliers in Change Management

Effective change management ensures that communication occurs and that risk is optimized. When both sup-
pliers and purchasing organisations fail to communicate, they can cause negative impacts for one another. One
way to avoid negative impact and to improve overall supplier performance is to regularly engage in shared
change management activities and responsibilities.

Ask the consultant

Is it possible for consultants to manage a development project if they don’t know how to code?

I am struggling to start an IT Consulting practice. I am not a developer. I do not code and ideally would like to set up a practice for doing business analysis and project management. Is that an unrealistic goal to have a consulting practice that does not offer any coding expertise? Going ahead I can hire a few developers but right now the economics don’t permit it.

How do i get work with this kind of skill set? What is the growth path ahead?

Answer

If the projects you intend to manage involve coding, you need to have some coding smarts — even if you don’t plan to do any of the coding yourself. I don’t think it’s possible to understand the constraints or leverage the strengths of the development process if you have never been on the coding end of a project. Either you need to acquire that experience or hire someone who has it.

You could be faced with projects in which the project manager had never programmed, or had never been good at it. Two things invariably happen:

(1) the project manager tries to force things down a pre-determined path that don’t fit the development process, and

(2) developers exaggerate their constraints in order to buy time. Even if the developers don’t mean to deceive, the fact that they have to translate their issues into terms that the project manager can grasp will invariably lead to some framing — conscious or not.

A project manager who understands coding will be able to apply a sniff test to these claims. More importantly, they’ll be able to have reasonable discussions with the developers about what they need in order to succeed.

You wouldn’t find a more optimistic answer, but I think it’s better to face the truth before you invest a lot of time, money, and effort into this venture.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines the critical path as “the sequence of schedule activities that determines the duration of the project.” Project managers can also apply the critical path methodology technique to “determine the amount of float on various logical network paths in the project schedule network to determine the minimum total project duration.” Critical path explained If you’re just as confused by the PMBOK speak, let me restate it in a way that’s easier to understand. The critical path is simply all the tasks that determine the end date in your project schedule. If one of those tasks is late by one day, then your project end date will be extended by one day. Oftentimes, there will be tasks that are not on the critical path; this is due to the slack in the project schedule. If you refer to your current schedule, you can examine the Gantt chart and quickly identify the tasks that have some float compared to the tasks that have no slack. Slack is the amount of time a task can be delayed without impacting the start date of a subsequent task. The critical path methodology is simply a technique to identify all the tasks that will directly impact the project end date. Figure A depicts a Gantt chart with a set of tasks on the critical path. Figure A Critical path in Microsoft Project In Figure A, there are five tasks in the project schedule and Task 4 is not on the project’s critical path. If Task 1, 2, 3, or 5 is delayed, then the entire project will be delayed. If Task 4 is delayed, it has seven days of free slack before it will start having an impact on the schedule. Since Task 5 is three days in duration, Task 4 could have an actual duration of 10 days before it becomes part of the project’s critical path. If it exceeds 11 days, Task 4 will create a new critical path. Tools are invented for a reason and, fortunately, Microsoft Project can support forecasting, what-if analysis, and detailed scheduling metrics along the critical path. By switching to different views and formatting the Gantt charts, you can quickly identify and monitor the tasks on the project’s critical path. Figure B depicts the free slack in Microsoft Project. All the tasks on the critical path have zero slack in their schedule and that’s why these tasks drive the end date. Task 5 has 7 days of slack and is not included on the critical path. By increasing or decreasing duration on specific tasks, you can see the adjustments in the critical path.

A lot of project management articles focus on technical aspects of the work (e.g., the latest tool, template, or technique to help manage scope, schedules, and people), but it’s just as important to focus on the social and cultural aspects of project management. Leadership, teamwork, negotiation, problem solving, and politics also have a significant impact on a project’s success.

Leadership frameworks can be taught in business schools and professional development courses, but leadership behaviors need to be learned and demonstrated. Here’s a look at three leadership behaviours.

Leadership behaviour #1: Demonstrate a drive for results

Project management isn’t easy or filled with glory. The reality is that projects are tough and can be stressful, frustrating, and have administrative challenges that can detract from the end goal. Focusing on the tasks that need to be accomplished (regardless of obstacles) and keeping the end goal in mind are easier said than done, but both concepts are critical nonetheless.

Effective project managers take responsibility to achieve the results defined by the project; this means you may not be able to simply delegate tasks to others and wait for the status update. On some of my projects, I never thought I’d be the person responsible for data cleanup in legacy systems or have to conduct menial and administrative tasks in preparation for the next day’s workshop; however, sometimes completing menial tasks and focusing on the end result helps move the project forward.

Leadership behavior #2: Demand the truth

In order to making the best decisions, project managers need to know the real issue or risk affecting the project. Effective project managers need to demand the truth from their teams and then present the truth to their management and peers. Minimizing problems and hiding issues with colorful explanations doesn’t help the project team or the project manager succeed. By asking team members to explain the status in basic terms without corporate rhetoric or political spin, the entire team will benefit.

Leadership behavior #3: Demonstrate courage

Projects don’t always go as planned, and it’s the project manager’s job to present the current status updates and describe any corrective actions needed to improve project performance. In some organizational cultures, there is a tendency to avoid reporting bad news until it’s too late. If you present a positive status update, it may give you a little more time to resolve problems on your own, but when a project is in trouble, project managers often need management support and attention to help turn things around.

It takes courage to communicate that there are problems with the project and to ask for help. It takes courage to have a conversation with a team member who isn’t performing well or to talk with a peer who isn’t providing the necessary support. It takes courage to make the hard decisions to cancel a project to save funding or to let an employee know they no longer have a position with the project. As project managers, these situations are difficult, but dealing with them is our job.

More leadership behaviors

It’s difficult to try to categorize all the leadership behaviors a successful project manager needs to exhibit into just three areas. A commitment to customer satisfaction, a focus on quality, and continuous improvement are secondary behaviors that I’d add to the list. Successful project managers possess the technical project management skills and the leadership behaviors to deliver a project.

What leadership behaviors would you add to the list?

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