All consultants, when being frank, will admit to the odd self-inflicted disaster.  The responsibility of many failed projects rests fair-and-square with the initiators.  They create projects or new starts with utter abandonment, overlooking the commitments each projects require.  Like children, projects need to have plenty of affection, attention, and nurturing.  The consequences for projects when these three traits are not present are equally dire.  Here is a list of projects that are high risk from the start:

  • Projects where management does not have a clue of what is involved.
  • Complex projects that are highly technical and have not been done before; in other words, management and the consultants do not have a clue (these projects make landing on the Moon look easy).
  • Project teams that respect only their own capabilities (in other words, they are difficult to work for).
  • Projects in organizations where the whole SMT has a serious case of attention deficit disorder.
  • Projects that are run by egos rather than project management expertise (the projects then take on a life of their own, invariably in the wrong direction, following the laws of gravity).
  • Projects that never had economic rationale behind them—the only linkage was to politics rather than strategy.
  • Any takeover, merger, or reorganization project, as most are doomed to failure by their very nature (see Chapter 30, “Avoiding a Rotten Takeover or Merger of my book
  • Projects in organizations that have a history of failed projects (even though each one has been blamed on the consultants).

Sometimes consultants have “forward” books that are as bare as ‘Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard’.  With high overhead and a month or so of expensive employees milling around in the office, any job—I mean any assignment—begins to look and smell like roses.  Never assume because the consultants appear confident, that the assignment has any merit, they might just be desperate for work.

 Start with a one-to-one briefing meeting 
The secret of a good briefing is access to enough SMT time at the beginning.  I advocate a think-tank session at the start.  A CEO flew in to be part of a one-day workshop with me at my offices to ensure that I was capable of delivering on the assignment, at the same time giving me a thorough briefing on the assignment.  This visit was beneficial for both parties.

The SMT members were much more supportive due to the CEO’s commitment to and confidence in the chosen consultant.  Another by-product was a much clearer understanding of the terms of reference than any document could convey.  The message is to give the consultants a good induction or suffer the consequences. The meeting has more chance of being successful in the consultants’ office, where interruptions will be minimized.

In this meeting establish the foundation stones of the project.  Just like building a house, the project, during its life, should never be allowed to be built away from these foundation stones!