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Your Other Significant Other: Defining the Relationship with your Consultant

5.26.16 By: Stacey Tester

Whether you’re a business or a nonprofit, using a consulting firm to assist with your Salesforce implementation is considered a best practice for such an extensive technology project. Many of those relationships are established through work-for-hire or ad-hoc style services, which can be somewhat structured or a fairly loose engagement. Once you’ve determined you need a consultant and gone through the process of selecting one, you’ll need to set expectations for how you will work together. Navigating this style of relationship may seem straight-forward at first blush, but in our experience, you are better off taking the time to have a good old fashioned DTR (Define the Relationship) talk. Clients may assume that consultants will drive every aspect of the relationship, but it’s the responsibility of both parties to ensure that expectations are clear from the get-go so goals are met and your project is a success!


Communicate Needs and Problems


While consultants should be doing their best to frame the conversation, it’s up to the client to make sure their organization’s needs and problems have been discussed and catalogued. Don’t assume the consultant will know they need to build or fix something unless you directly address it. Like in any relationship, if you don’t communicate your needs, you may not get what you want.


One way to ensure your organizational goals have been captured is to put them down on paper and share them with your consultant. One way of doing this is to create a project charter. A project charter is a central document that outlines the fundamental information about your project and is used to get approval and authorization for your project. Think of it as the outline you would pitch to your boss in order to receive approval to move forward. It generally includes:

  • What you want to accomplish
  • Why you want to accomplish it
  • Who will be affected
  • Risks
  • Sources of help

This will help identify common goals across the organization and key stakeholders. To go even more in depth, try interviewing those key stakeholders and format their needs and problems in user stories (recommended for more complex projects). With both a project charter and a series of user stories, you’ll provide a practical snapshot of your current state of affairs and desired outcomes.    


Set Clear Expectations


One of the top predictors for divorce is arguing about money. Money problems are equally as treacherous for the success of your technology project. First and foremost, you don’t want to hide the amount of money you have to spend. You wouldn’t buy a home without telling your real estate agent how much you’re able to spend or try to convince a car salesman to pitch you a luxury vehicle you can’t afford. The same goes for your technology consultant. Being upfront about your budget will help set priorities and puts the onus on the consultant to deliver the agreed-upon line items. Make sure to allocate funds and confirm the cost for each deliverable before kicking off a project.   


Here are a few techniques for working with consultants that will streamline your project:


1. You make a request for a specific project and the consultant agrees to complete the request.

Pros: Simplicity! There will be less back and forth with your consultant, which eats into billable hours. This approach is functionality-driven and is less focused on allocation of hours.

Cons: You have less budgetary control.


2 . You request an estimate for a specific project, the consultant provides an estimate, and you approve or deny.

Pros:  You have more control over your budget, but won’t spend a lot of your allotted funds on back and forth with your consultant

Cons: Not a lot of flexibility.


3. You request an estimate, the consultant provides an estimate, then you define qualifications for moving forward.

Pros: You have budgetary control and project flexibility

Cons: More back and forth and takes longer for work to be completed (remember that the back and forth is all billable!)


Regular Check-Ins: Above all, communication is key


Like every relationship, technology projects are dynamic. People change, needs change, and problems come up. Mitigating risk is the name of the game, and one of the best ways to do that is to frequently check in with your consultant.


We recommend scheduling regular meetings with your project manager to run down a checklist of status updates to make sure the project is on track. When there’s a change (and there will be a change!) and you want to reconfigure your deliverables, make sure to notify your consultant so everyone can make adjustments accordingly.


If you feel your needs aren’t being met, make sure to voice that before the project wraps-up. Waiting until the end of the project to say something would be like eating the whole meal and then telling the waiter the food was undercooked. Make sure to get ahead of issues before they present a problem.     


Choose your partner wisely


Most importantly, make sure to work with a consultant that has the resources available to provide you with the support you need. If you are a large organization with a big project, you probably don’t want to work with a fly-by-night freelancer. They won’t have the capacity to cater to a broad set of requirements with a heavy load of project management.


If you’ve selected your consultant and need to prepare for your first chat with them, check out the blog linked below for a play-by-play on what to expect.





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