I am on continuous hunt after good consulting books .Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used by Peter Block seems like one of best of breed. It is chocked with prescriptive guidance that can perfectly serve both aspiring and seasoned consultants. My favorite part is his description of 5 stages for each consulting gig:  Entry and Contracting,  Discovery and Dialogue,  Feedback and Decision to Act,  Engagement and Implementation,  Extension, Recycle or Termination.
Getting or giving consultation? Read on.
Phase 1: Entry and Contracting
It includes setting up the first meetings as well as exploring what the problem is, whether the consultant is the right person to work on this issue, what the client’s expectations are, and how to get started.
Nothing can be more frustrating as trying to solve wrong problem or being the wrong guy. In fact, I am involved with two related gigs. With one I am the wrong guy, and the other – the customer still have not figured out what he wants to do with me after he signed the contract. I confess – it all sucks. On less emotional and more practical note here is another angle – my brand gets seriously hurt, customer satisfaction goes down, the trust gets broken, the deliverable is hardly to hit the deadlines, future gigs won’t come from such customer.
There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Druker
Phase 2: Discovery and Dialogue
The questions here for the consultant are: Who is going to be involved in defining the problem? What methods will be used? What kind of data should be collected? and How long will it take?
This step requires intelligence skills – here you need to identify the main players and their WIIFM. Mobilize your skills to understand how many of the players will benefit from potential solution and how many will actually hurt. With consulting it’s extremely rare situation when everybody’s happy. If you solve a problem it means that something or someone gets ax – otherwise why would they call you onsite? Identify the strongest player and play by his rules.
Phase 3: Feedback and the Decision to Act
This phase is really what many people call planning. It includes setting ultimate goals for the project and selecting the best action steps or changes.
My father always liked to say that properly stated problem definition is half of the solution [Damn it! I miss you so much, Papa]. That is why in my SOW’s I always allocate time for scoping the problem – it both helps to focus on high ROI activities and prevents the scope runaway during the engagement implementation.
Phase 4: Engagement and Implementation
In many cases the implementation may fall entirely on the line organization. For larger change efforts, the consultant may be deeply involved.
Getting deeply involved is my favorite part with consulting. But watch out, keep away from making the decisions on customer’s behalf. At some point a customer may want to move the responsibility of making decision to a consultant. Either due to highest trust that was established or just because the customer hates making decisions. It happens too. Offer tools to make a decision, not the decision. It’s a slippery road, do not slip – you might fall.
Phase 5: Extension, Recycle, or Termination
There are many options for ending the relationship, and terminations should be considered a legitimate and important part of the consultation. If done well, it can provide an important learning experience for the client and the consultant and also keep the door open for future work with the organization.
The deliverable is delivered, the gig is wrapped and the customer is happy. Heaven. It is the best time to offer your services for problems identified during the gig implementation. Market it, sell it, close it! You’d never have a better chance to promote your services.
The gig went all wrong? Terminate it as it was success – with a smile. Keep doors open, never slam it. You might get another chance in the future with the customer – all the investment you made onsite worth something, eh? Customer understands it too.
Practice This – Get Results
- Ask the right questions – identify key personas and key objectives.
- Set scope – focus on high ROI, guard yourself from scope runaways.
- Practice emotional intelligence [EQ] – it is powerful weapon, but watch out, it is explosive.
- Read Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used – learn the rules, play by the rules, succeed.