If you’ve hired a consulting organization to provide project management services, it’s likely because your internal staff:

A. May not have the experience you want or need for the project to be successful
B. May not have the skills to manage the project
C. May not have the bandwidth for the project(s) you have in your portfolio
D. A little of all of the above

Since projects are often one-time occurrences, you might want a resource who has previous experience on one or more projects of a similar nature, and many times that means hiring a consultant. Or, perhaps you have the best team of technical resources around, but need the project management oversight to ensure the project stays on track and that communications and status are flowing through the appropriate channels. None of these reasons for hiring a consulting firm are bad ones. They are just the simple truths of business.

When you hire a consultant (whether us or another firm), there are a few basic, universal guidelines that we both need to honor:

1) Assume our goals are the same. You want the project to be successful. Guess what? So do we! Our success is your success, and vice versa.

2) Trust our experience. You hired us for our expertise, and because of that experience, we may recommend approaches that are different from how your organization “has always done it.” Having said that, your staff has internal knowledge of your organization that needs to be brought to the table. That tribal knowledge, coupled with our experience, will help the project be successful.

3) Tell us the truth. We can’t help you if we don’t know what the problems and issues are. Let us know what you see as the biggest project risks before we get started. During the project, encourage your staff to tell us the truth about the status of tasks and to report issues when they occur.

4) Encourage appropriate communication channels. Hallway conversations and side conversations sometimes result in decisions being made that relate to the project, but this can undermine the structure and leadership you hired us to provide. Prevent side conversations before they start by reinforcing appropriate communication channels with your staff. Suggest they tell the person they are talking to that the project manager and project team need to be involved. If the topic is time-sensitive and it can’t wait until the next project team meeting, a separate time should be arranged to continue the conversation with the project manager present.

5) Don’t expect miracles on project turnaround or staff turnaround. It may take a while to right the ship if you are engaging us late in a struggling project. Tell us your expectations, but make sure they are reasonable and realistic. If you have staffing concerns due to technical and/or personality issues, don’t expect us to be able to turn that staff member around. We’ll do what we can to help, certainly, but our primary responsibility is to the success of the project. Resource management and project management are two very different things.

Every project has its challenges, but following these basic rules of engagement will help ensure that we’re off to a good start and that the entire project team is working together toward the same goal.