A Letter to Your Client

By Michael W. McLaughlin

Exhilarating as it is to learn that you’ve won a new project, that moment is often followed by the sobering realization that you now have to make good on your promises. Or, as one consultant put it, “The good news is that we won the project. The bad news is that we have to do the project.”

In a previous article, I wrote an open letter from a client to a consultant that expressed what most clients want to say before beginning a new project. Here’s my take on the flip side of that–what newly-hired consultants would have to say to the client.

To: Our new client

We are thrilled that you chose our firm for this important project, and appreciate the trust you have placed in us. We are committed to the goal of delivering the value you expect, within the schedule and budget we’ve agreed on.

To do that, though, we need to get off to a fast start, stay productive for the duration of the project, and finish smoothly. Obviously, your help is essential for making that happen. Here are a few thoughts on the specific ways you can help.

We Can’t Know the Players without a Scorecard

Our consultants have done this kind of work before, but not with you. Every organization has its own unique personalities and politics, which can present opportunities or create barriers. Unfortunately, as outsiders, are blissfully unaware of the gold mines and land mines in your organization.

It would be a shame if we inadvertently offended someone because of a blind spot in our knowledge. Granted, it’s our responsibility to learn as much as possible about your team beforehand. But, without your guidance, it’s almost impossible for us to understand the hot-button issues for the people in your organization.

Like most projects, no doubt this one has supporters for the change the company is undertaking. They can be a valuable source of information and good ideas. We’ll be more productive if we know these advocates early in the project, instead of waiting until they introduce themselves to the team.

Predictably, every project has detractors too. We’re not trying to avoid or neutralize the influence of these individuals. We’d just like to know who they are.

Our Plan Isn’t Perfect

When you approved this project, we agreed on an approach and timeline. Everyone did their best to define how the project would unfold, given the information we had at the time.

The truth is that our original plan has some holes in it. As with any plan, we made assumptions about the timing to complete tasks, our ability to pull together the information necessary to make decisions, and the complexity of the problem. Some of our assumptions will prove to be accurate, while some will not.

That means we need to revisit our assumptions before we get started, not later. If we find that an assumption was off target, we may need a Plan B to move forward. Without testing our assumptions, one last time, we can’t be sure precisely how we will get the work done.

Rest assured, this isn’t a ploy to increase the project budget or fatten our fees. It’s simply a final reality check on what we believe to be true, so we aren’t surprised down the road.

Timely Decisions Will Set the Pace

Once the project gets rolling, you’ll face many decisions, both small and large. You’ll have to decide on team assignments, schedules, and the resolution of the disputes that can arise in any project. Some decisions will be no-brainers, but many will require consultation with others. That’s where we introduce risk into the project.

You and your colleagues are busy. This project, though it is a priority, isn’t the only thing you have going on. Still, keeping our work on track depends to a great extent on your ability to make well-reasoned, timely decisions.

We will bring you the best possible information to help you decide. And, in most cases, that will include our recommendations. We ask that you assess the issue and make a decision as quickly as possible.

That sounds easier than it is. Sometimes, an issue will be contentious or difficult. It may seem that stretching out the time to decide is the best way to get everyone to agree on an answer. But such delays will cause problems. We may not see the effect of a delayed decision until much later in the project, but it will surface.

Creativity Is Chaotic

Our team looks forward to working side by side with yours on every aspect of the project, from work planning to solution development and implementation. That level of collaboration is the key to our success.

Many clients are familiar with the plans, reports, and recommendations consultants produce. They may be less aware of how we create that output. So when your people witness or participate in our process, they may be surprised.

To bring final shape to the ideas that will help us deliver value, we need a creative process that integrates everything we’ve learned about your situation with the expertise of the team. Finding the best solution can be a messy undertaking.

When we come together to generate ideas, you can expect that it will take time for everyone to become comfortable. We must feel secure enough to take risks and explore every plausible idea with the group. Your team must get used to a process that seems to take one step forward and two steps back, at least until there’s a breakthrough. Everyone must get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Don’t be surprised if you hear people express dismay about the chaos, which is a natural part of a creative effort. You should ask for patience. Eventually, everyone will see that the process, along with their participation, led to a solution that we wouldn’t have found without a collaborative effort.

Brace Yourself for Crunch Time

No matter how well we plan, or how effectively we execute specific tasks, we’re going to face crunch time at the end of the project. We may breeze through the first 90 percent of the work, but the final 10 percent will be a challenge.

At the end, some things always take longer than we anticipate. And any delayed decisions will come back to haunt us. It will be tempting to extend the project timeline to give everyone a breather. But resist the urge. No matter how much we extend the schedule, we have to face the final push at some point. People may complain, and the atmosphere may get tense, but we’ll get through it together.

The Sale Isn’t Final Yet

We’re aware that some will be skeptical of any outsider’s motives. It’s not a secret that we want to work with you on other projects. This is what we do for a living, after all. But we also realize that this project isn’t really sold until we’ve delivered on our promises.

Our aim is for everything we do to improve the chances for a successful project. If that works out, we hope you’ll invite us back. In the meantime, we may bring you ideas for other initiatives, but we know our focus cannot waver from the project at hand.

Some people say that a consultant will take your watch to tell you what time it is. Trust me–we don’t want your watch. What we do want is to help you succeed and to build a productive, ongoing relationship with you.


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