March  28,  2024

Tips for success when collaborating with a consultant.


A sure way to guarantee failure on a project is misalignment. Setting expectations and agreeing on the work is critical to getting the outcomes you want from your consulting relationship.

Speak and listen.

Alignment begins at the beginning. Make sure your consultants understand what the problem is and how you want to them to help. Answer questions and give them access to the information or people they need to understand the situation. Ask your consultant questions about who they are, how they work, and what you can expect. And if they start speaking “Consultantese,” stop and ask them to clarify.

Agree on the work.

Once you’ve decided on the path forward, agree on the statement of work. Be sure it includes everything you want consultants to do to help solve your problem. The statement of work should describe the deliverables the consultants will create for you. Ask to see samples of those deliverables.

Ask your consultant questions about who they are, how they work, and what you can expect.

As you review those samples, ask yourself, “Will these deliverables help to solve this problem for my company?” If the answer is no, then speak up. Work with the consultant to customize the deliverables to fit you and your company. Once you are aligned, sign the statement of work and begin the engagement.

Sync your work styles.

Expectations are not just for the “what” but the “how.” So talk about working styles and boundaries. Do you prefer to have meetings in the mornings or afternoons? Are Fridays off-limits? Are you ok with working through lunch? If your consultant is flying in, is there a certain time you want them to arrive on Mondays…or leave on Thursdays or Fridays? Should consultants send meeting invites directly to you and your team, or go through an assistant? What communication channels do you prefer – email, phone, or a messaging platform like Teams? How should you share documents? Should business calls go to business numbers or are cell phones ok too? What are the “unwritten rules” of working with your company or team?

Kick it off.

Conduct a kick-off meeting the first week of the engagement. Invite the project sponsor, the project team, and any other key stakeholders. During this initial meeting, have your consultant explain to the team why they are there…what they plan to do and how they will work with the team.

Talk about working styles and boundaries.

Share the timeline that was included in the statement of work. Does it jive with the project’s timeline? Do you need to make adjustments? Agree on when deliverables will be submitted and how they’ll be submitted. How many days before a formal deliverable review should deliverables be sent? Who will sign off on deliverables? Who will act as the consultant’s main point of contact?

Communicate systematically.

Continued communication is the key to maintaining this alignment. Check in on a weekly basis. Set up status meetings. Decide who should facilitate those meetings and who should attend those meetings, and how they will be run. Agree on the format of the status report. What information will be most helpful to you as the project progresses? What are your deal breakers for project management? Any lessons learned from previous projects? Milestones, templates, and rules should guide your communications.

Avoid surprises.

As the project moves forward, keep your consultant abreast of any changes in scope, timing and/or budget. Last-minute changes aren’t good…but they are better than not communicating at all – that can really sink your effort.

Continued communication is key to maintaining alignment.

If something changes, sit down and speak with your consultant. Sometimes a fix can be as simple as creating a change order to reset expectations and get realigned.

What else should you talk about when starting and maintaining a great working relationship with your consultants? HINT: Anything that helps you to have a smooth working relationship and a successful project.