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Small Consulting Firm Consulting Process

For small consulting firms there is no good process that can be used during consulting interventions. Based on the initial definition of the consulting process by Cope (2010) and the intervention theory and the consulting process, as described by Kilmann and Mitroff(1979), I created an approach for those small consulting firms.

Figure 1: A.C. de Jong Consultancy – Consulting cycle
The main process contains the following:

  • Relationship management: this is an overall process, not only during the intervention but also before and after. It helps to understand the customer and build a good relationship. This process is also mending to function as stakeholder management during the intervention.
  • Analyse intervention: when the client signals that an intervention is needed I analyse the kind of intervention (expert, pair of hands, etc.) needed and determine if this intervention is something you can do.
  • Contract: when both the client and you are convinced that this intervention fits your skills, agree on the terms and make a contract
  • Intervention: in this process the actual intervention takes place (see more detailed description underneath)
  • Exit: during the exit process the final handover of the intervention takes place
Figure 2: A.C. de Jong Consultancy – Intervention step

 

The intervention process has several sub-processes that not only work in so called ‘waterfall’ projects but also in Agile projects or continual improvement projects.

The first step during the intervention is the problem finding that helps to clarify the root cause, etc.


During the solution finding the possible solutions are investigated/analysed and decided what will be the way to go.


When the solution is clear a plan will be made for implementation, including the resources needed.


During the implementation the ‘execution’ of the chosen solution takes place (project/programme).


In the evaluating stage we look back if the implemented solution solves the earlier defined problem, that benefits are realized, etc. It can also be that based on this evaluation stage new or not completely solved problems come up, where the process of problem finding starts again.

What are the risks and challenges which may occur at each stage of the consulting cycle

Relationship management

  • Cannot build a good (working) relationship. Need to adjust the approach you use and find an appropriate way for this specific client.

Analyse stage

  • Not clear what kind of intervention is needed. Need to discuss this with the client to get a better idea. If certain cases you could chose for a ‘small investigation’ to get a better idea.

Contract stage

  • Proposal is not created to the client’s satisfaction and no contract is agreed. If the client didn’t go to another consultancy firm you need to discuss the needed changes and if there is a mutual agreement adjust the proposal/contract.
  • Several proposals are presented by different consultants and only one is contracted. Try to find out what the reason for the rejection was and use this for future contracts with this or another client when possible (f.e. if price is the problem, you can only ‘adjust’ this a bit)

Intervention stage
The intervention stage has different sub stages and the challenges and risk are described in the sub stages.

Problem finding sub-stage

  • No support for help finding the problem. If there is no acceptance for finding the problem the relationship/stakeholder management need to be adjusted or the management needs to ‘set the priority’.
  • The problem cannot be found. If this is the case, it means that the problem is not defined in the right way. With problem solving techniques a ‘deeper’ or more detailed analysis needs to be made.

Problem solving sub-stage

  • No acceptance for the needed change by the client. If there is no acceptance for the needed change, either the solution is not the right one or the relationship/stakeholder management need to be adjusted.
  • No solution can be found. If this is the case, it means that the problem is not defined in the right way. With problem solving techniques a ‘deeper’ or more detailed analysis needs to be made.

Planning sub-stage

  • The right resources cannot be found and/or assigned. If the right resource is not available the ‘next best solution’ needs to be found and discussed with the people involved. It can also be that a change in the solution needs to be made because of this.
  • No support for the change. If there is no support for the change, either the solution is not the right one or the relationship/stakeholder management need to be adjusted.

Implementing sub-stage

  • Corrections in the original design. During the implementation it can be necessary to adjust the chosen solution. This adjustment needs to be communicated and discussed with all the people involved, update the documentation and sign them off again.
  • Corrections in the original plan. During the implementation it can be necessary to adjust the plan. This adjustment needs to be communicated and discussed with all the people involved, update the documentation and sign them off again.

Evaluating sub-stage

  • During this stage it can be that the client finds the ‘delivered’ solution is not the solution wanted or is not solving the (complete) problem. If it is not the solution the client wanted we need to discuss the requirements and the chosen solution to find out where it went wrong in the ‘relationship management/keeping stakeholder informed, aligned’. We need to go through the intervention stage again to adjust the solution

Exit stage

  • The client will not sign-off your contract a completed. Either the relationship management is not done properly or the evaluation stage didn’t bring the results the client expected. Discuss this with the client and either you get the sign-off or need to go through the intervention stage again to adjust the solution.

Develop your strategies to overcome risks and challenges which may occur during an intervention

In my consulting process the client is the ‘most important’ factor before, during and after my interventions. That is also the reason that in my consulting processes the relationship management circle is the circle where all other activities with the client take place. Building a good relationship with my client helps me to overcome risks and challenges during my interventions. To do so I need to have to build good relationship with my client, take care of good stakeholder management and create a common language.

Develop and build relationships

When there is a good relationship between the people working together it:

  • Builds trust and understanding
  • Improves the support towards each other, quality, pleasure in work, etc.

Good stakeholder management

There are many benefits to having effective Stakeholder Management in place:

  • Reduced rework – good requirements are fundamental to all projects, but if the key stakeholders haven’t been identified, particularly those who can shape requirements, the project is likely to have to deal with unnecessary rework later.
  • Project managers can use the opinions of the most powerful stakeholders to shape projects at an early stage. Not only does this make it more likely that they will support the project, but their input can also be invaluable in setting the project up for success.
  • By communicating with stakeholders early and frequently, project managers can ensure that they fully understand how the project is progressing and fully support the benefits, approach and risks involved.
  • Increased buy-in and support from key stakeholders can help to ensure that the appropriate resources are available to the project and barriers to delivery removed.
  • Helps project managers to anticipate what people’s reactions to the project may be, and build into plans the actions that will win their support.
  • Early identification of key stakeholders will speed up the approval process for the project and project documentation.
  • Critical milestone slippage, due to late changes of requirements and iterative sign off processes, can be reduced or eliminated.

Where Stakeholder Management is not employed on projects there are often a number of problems which can arise as a result, for example:

  1. Reduced support in helping the project to deliver.
  2. Lack of direction & delays in tackling significant issues.
  3. Other projects judged to be of higher importance, even when that may not be the case.
  4. Delays to approval process.
  5. Late changes to requirements, resulting in rework.
  6. Incorrect requirements resulting in a failed project.

Create a common language

By creating a common language in the project you prevent misunderstanding and ‘talking across’.

How is your small consulting firm consulting process?

Author: Rieco de Jong (All Rights Reserved by the author).

Source: Original text, based upon first hand knowledge and the following bibliography:
 · Cope, M. (2010). The Seven Cs of Consulting (3th ed.). Harlow: Financial Times Prentice Hall.
 · Kilmann, R., & Mitroff, I. (1979). Problem defining and the consulting/intervention process. Calif Manage Rev, 21(3), 26-33.

Image: © de Jong Consultancy