Common Consulting Mistakes

At the beginning stages of a consulting engagement, there are ample opportunities to make mistakes. Unfortunately, mistakes at such an early stage in a project can often become magnified later in the process and can lead to disastrous results. Here's a list from Brown & Kirkwood to watch out for.

  • Accepting without question the accuracy of the business partner's stated objective or description of the problem.
  • Failing to check for alignment of state objectives with departmental or corporate goals.
  • Immediately focusing on a solution, implementation, and “the fix”.
  • Jumping to conclusions about how to go about conducting the project.
  • Not asking clarifying questions regarding resources, results, timelines, and measurables.
  • Agreeing to unrealistic timelines.
  • Being intimidated by the title of the presenting sponsor or client.
  • Not raising issues you feel uncomfortable with.
  • Not challenging what is being avoided e.g. the facts, the risks, accountability, and defined results.
  • Not asserting what's needed to be successful.
  • Fear. “I'm not good enough.”
  • Overconfidence. “Been there, done that.”
  • Not tuning in to the potential value-drivers that can help to build the value proposition for the inevitable costs of the project.
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  1. Too often, an organization hires a consultant and, since they are the expert, assumes they can jump in and run a project for them with limited client interaction. The consultant is hesitant to push back and ask for the client's participation for fear that their credibility will be questioned. The result is the majority of mistakes that you listed here. Even if a consultant has expert knowledge of the client's industry, they need to understand the client's unique strategy (or how they deal with the lack of one) and its culture. The client also needs to have some skin in the game of a project so they are as committed to its success as the consultant.
    This is why it is so important for consultants to strive for add-on projects. It's not just a sales tactic. It's a win-win scenario for the consultant, who gets more business, and the client, who doesn't have to retrain another consulting firm on their business.
    Lew Sauder, Author, Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (

  2. Here's another mistake I know I've made in my freelancing experiences and full-time positions I've taken: not being prepared enough. While the client may not realize that you're missing essentials, it's still an unprofessional way of handling things and can lead to huge problems later down the line, especially when creating designs or during long-term, cumulative projects.

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