5 Phases of Consulting

Flawless Consulting by Peter Block suggests that following a prescribed 5 phases approach to consulting can help you succeed in your endeavors. Here's a summary of the different phases with my spin on how they relate to IT engagements. Of course if you end up agreeing with these, you should really consider buying the book.

1. Entry and Contracting
This first phase deals with the initial contact with the client about the project. If you're independent, you're meeting directly with a potential client. If you're working through a recruiter, think of this stage as an interview. Tasks include:

  • Setting up the first meeting.
  • Exploring what the problem is.
  • Determining if you're the right consultant for the work.
  • Listing the client's expectations.
  • Specifying what expectations you have.
  • Figuring out how to get started.

When consultants talk about their disasters, their conclusion is usually that the project was faulty in the initial contracting stage.

2. Data Collection and Diagnosis
It's important that consultants come up with their own sense of the problem. Some consider this step to be where the consultant adds the most value. Out of this phase the consultant needs to know who is going to be involved in defining the problem; what methods will be used; what kind of data should be collected; and how long will it take.

If you're consulting through an agency, you've likely already been hired by this point. If not, you run the risk of working for free so be careful.

3. Feedback and the Decision to Act
As a consultant you'll need to report your findings from phase 2. The key here is to take the mountain of information that has been collected and reduce it so that it can be managed and understood.

A consultant must also decide how to involve the client in the process of analyzing the information. Be prepared to encounter resistance when giving feedback to the organization. The more high-profile the project, the more resistance you are likely to encounter. The consultant must handle this resistance before an appropriate decision can be made about how to proceed. This phases is pretty much what others call the planning phase and includes setting the goals for the project and selecting the best action steps.

4. Implementation
As the name implies, this step involves taking everything that has been decided previously and implementing the solution decided upon. Often, the implementation falls to the organization, but sometimes the consultant will remain deeply involved in the efforts.

Some projects start implementation with an educational event. This should be a series of meetings to introduce some change. It may require a single meeting to get different parts of the organization together to address a problem. It may be a training session. In these cases, the consultant is usually involved in rather complicated design work and in running the meeting or training session.

Generally IT consultants remain involved with the project through to completion. This is especially true if your a lead developer or architect.

5. Extension, Recycle, or Termination
This begins with an evaluation of the main event. Following this is the decision whether to extend the process to a larger segment of the organization. Sometimes it is not until after some implementation occurs that a clear picture of the real problem emerges. In this case the process recycles and a new contract needs to be discussed. If the implementation was either a huge success or a moderate-to-high failure, termination of further involvement on this project may be in the offing. There are many options for ending the relationship and termination should be considered a legitimate and important part of the consultation. If done well, it can provide an important learning experience for the client and the consultant, and also keep the door open for future work with the organization.

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