Small Business IT Consulting Engagements

Most I.T. managers have seen consulting projects go bad. Read insight into why some projects fail -- and ways to avoid the pitfalls.

Tom Rodenhauser has followed the I.T. consulting industry for years, first as editor of Consultant’s News [], and more recently as founder of his own New Hampshire-based firm, Consulting Information Services.

Rodenhauser has advised many consultants — and their clients — about enhancing client value from consulting engagements, and knows better than most why some engagements turn out badly.

“The most common reason engagements fail is that clients pick the wrong consultant,” he says. Often, buyers choose the wrong firm because a “solution” offered seems attractive — and the client begins thinking more in terms of the firm’s product, and less in terms of its own needs. That s a mistake, Rodenhauser says. “Where consulting services are “productized” around different hardware and software, consultants are often accused of being hammers looking for nails.” It s up to the client to cultivate the discipline to resist the dazzle of an exciting “solution” and to emphasize the specific issues that really need attention.

A fuzzy mission for the consulting firm and unclear expected outcomes are also common reasons for failure. “A consulting assignment without clear and measurable goals,” Rodenhauser says, “usually results in disappointment, particularly on the I.T. side.”

Also high on Rodenhauser s list of project-killers is poor support — and understanding –among senior management. “You can’t cut out senior management from the consulting project, nor can top executives foist their favorite consultants on the project — both scenarios guarantee failure every time.”

Finally, many successful consulting engagements impart little value long-term because the client doesn t invest in ongoing maintenance of the strategies, systems and structures the consultants help to develop. “Part of the knowledge transfer that consultants sell,” Rodenhauser says, “is the idea that clients will be able to supervise the post-consulting program to assure its continued success. That means that the client has to dedicate resources and accept the challenge of long-term support. If the client doesn t think long-term, the up-front investment will have diminishing value over time.”

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