How to Work With An Independent Consultant
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Even the most straightforward consulting assignments can get off-track without a detailed project scope. Avoid disappointment and get value from every penny you invest in consulting services with this advice from Dr. Maria Todd
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Knowing how to negotiate a project scope will ensure you and your consultant are a match and the deliverable is what you expect before your project begins.
What is a project scope?
Clients and consultants must set expectations before work begins. This is a housekeeping detail that is all to often skipped at great peril to business relationships and value propositions. When both sides fail to define the boundaries of a project, oversights, overspends, and duplication of efforts can occur. Developing a clear project scope helps everyone to stay aligned on the goals, deliverable, and time or budget constraints of a project or consulting assignment before it begins, and ensures that the consultant has sufficient, resources, supporting budget, and the right team to complete the work.
A project scope, otherwise known as a scope or statement of work (or SOW), allows both client and consultant and other sub-contractors to understand what the project parameters are, informs team members on the expected amount of work for each phase of the project, and helps to identify any gaps in the plan.
How I write a project scope
As a consultant, if you call me for assistance, I expect you to have an idea of what you want help with. It is unfair to expect me to guess. I don’t know much about you on that first introductory call. Please be prepared for that discussion with information at hand.
It has taken me years to learn to write project scope and they are pretty formulaic, but each is its own document and as different as the clients I serve.
I’ve created a reusable template to help me walk through each new project that arises more easily and consistently so that I can share your vision and plan to execute it in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, under budget, and on time.
1. We gather and share details
Before I can create or write a project scope, I need the client to share information about their needs and expectations, what they did on their own, what they don’t feel comfortable with or prepared to do themselves, or what they don’t have time to do personally. I also need to know about the resources and workflows you want or need, where the budget comes from and the goals and metrics to define success.
2. Your business goals
The first step in knowing how to negotiate with a consultant on project scope begins with sharing your defined or stated business goals – right or wrong. Don’t be shy, a good consultant listens more than they talk. Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.
When you share your confidential business goals I listen intently as you briefly articulate the overall vision of the project, including why you decided to contact me, and the big-picture objectives you expect to achieve. If your objectives are way off base, I will tell you what I think with lots of compassion. Remember: I’m a small business person too and I have faced the same kinds of struggles and constraints. Are you trying to boost awareness of your new brand or a rebrand? A new product? A new service line? A better contract? New contract? Are you just temporarily short staffed but need a short one-off assistance with a contract analysis or negotiation within a time frame?
Delineating your expectations for my work are vital for keeping your project on pace and avoiding distractions and asks that fall outside of the project scope. But lots of times, people call me to help with services I don’t offer, such as medical tourism “facilitation” and lead sourcing. I don’t refer patients because patients don’t call me. I am a business consultant to healthcare professionals. So if that’s what you want help with, I’m not “the one”.
3. Project deliverable and criteria
Next, we need to create a list of the specific deliverable I’ll deliver to you at the conclusion or at various milestones in the engagement. This deliverable might be the creation of a strategic plan, execution assistance, or to design your website, create and prepare a digital ad, a training workshop, or event management.
Whatever it is, If I accept the engagement, I need to document your expected outcome. I work for clients based on deliverable that is specific and measurable. That’s how I quote prices and time estimates, too.
That way, we are both crystal clear when the project has met clients’ criteria and is finished. For example, If I am to produce a training workshop or speak at your event, you must specify what topics the training will cover, how many people I will train, and how long each session will be, if there should be a test or group activity to prove competency, and who pays for my travel and accommodation and subsistence as well as my training fees. Who pays for course materials creation, duplication, distribution, and any technology to store and share materials. If there is a certification who pays the certification body’s fees?
4. Limitations, constraints, time, budgets, personnel
I need to know both what I can and cannot do in a project. If, for example, I accept a limited quick project I expect to finish without subcontractor assistance, I cannot always accommodate last-minute change requests.
I can stop one project and start a different one to accommodate you. But experience has taught me the perils of “scope creep”…where one project morphs into more than we both anticipated.
While some consultants and contractors are idle and have lots of time between gigs, I don’t. That’s the mark of an expert and authority with nearly 40 years of experience and client development.
5. Assumptions and duties of each party to the project
Just like with limitations, we must agree on that which each side brings into the project. A client may wrongly assume that I will be using a template from a previous project or a template on file and with a few adjustments have their outputs ready to go. That’s an assumption of a fact not always in evidence.
The same thing happens with assumptions of what a website project will include including a specific number of pages and features. I need to know if I am writing content or simply editing it for you. Writing original content takes far more time than editing someone else’s content for SEO and proper English. We must first agree and specify how big the project is, what it involves, and who’s doing what by when.
6. Inclusions and exclusions
You hate price creep. I hate scope creep. To keep your project focused and on budget we must make sure you clearly articulate what’s included in a project — and what’s not.
My team and I cannot do our best work if we don’t know what resources are available to us. Including this is essential in how I draft a project scope. For example, when developing the Greek National Medical Tourism Strategy, I needed an office, secretarial support, and travel and subsistence for four trips during the situation analysis. While in Greece, I needed ground transfers to and from appointments, official translation from the legislative Gazette, and legal interpretation of various laws. The project owners had to provide that for me. They also provided the computer for me to use and a printer and c-o-f-f-e-e! Backstopping on international projects is a big deal when the consultant travels from afar and is expected to work locally for weeks at a time. The budget estimate I give cannot include those items as I don’t have a clue what local office space and staffing costs may be. While I can estimate travel, the costs are what they are. It’s always best to look to the project owner to arrange discounts on hotels and driver services and appointment setting and translation/interpretation.
The same goes for if you have a specific budget allocated for training. The training venue, audio visual services, course materials development and distribution and translation and interpreter services must be worked out by the project owner, not the consultant. If I bring materials with me, there’s the possibility of import duty and extra baggage fees. Why pay that when I can send a soft copy and duplication can be performed locally?
If I am to work on a project with billable hours, we must establish in the project scope exactly what is billable, when payments are due, how payments are to be tendered, deadlines, what happens if you don’t pay when due, and how much time I allocate for your project. I must also pass through or bundled costs associated with specific aspects and elements. Budgeting helps us both have clearly stated project costs and any requests that may require extra time and funding. If you are undercapitalized for what you want done, be up front with me and ask me for ways to try to cut costs or prioritize and put some things off for later so we can get you as close to what you need as possible. That’s better than a default where I need to withhold deliverable at the end…because I will freeze your account if a default occurs.
Everything in a scope of work is negotiable. Your Scope of Work must be signed by both of us and any subcontractors or other responsible parties and attached to our engagement agreement as a de facto meeting of the minds. The courts look to this document with more importance and priority than the contract itself as it explains expectations, deadlines, deliverable and intention of the parties to do business. Without it, I won’t accept or start your project.
10. The project schedule
Once we have agreed to the scope of your project — only then can we make the project alive and take action. Each deliverable must be associated with a list of the tasks required to achieve each one. The notes will include who is responsible for each task, and how long we’ve budgeted to complete the work. While we both intend to be realistic — the schedule should be flexible enough to allow for agility and accommodate small insignificant changes. Larger changes will have to be reworked and evaluated for costs.
11. Formatting the project scope
There’s no one right way to format a project scope document. It can be as simple as a text document — or, if your processes are more complicated, visualizations can help you clearly illustrate how each piece of a project fits together.
Very recently, a project manager asked me to propose a scope of work with no information on budget, funding, resources, timeline, and just throw some bullet points on paper for him. I declined to waste my time doing that for him. I’d rather not take on such an amorphous assignment. If the client cannot specify some details, it isn’t a project I want. My time is valuable and scarce. If you cannot respect that, we shouldn’t work together.
Another called me and belligerently accosted me for asking how I could be of service. Did he expect me to read his mind? Sorry, that costs extra! A lot extra! And you’ll have to wait til hell freezes over first.
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Maria is a bestselling author and a top healthcare industry influencer and thought leader. She has excellent references and a huge project portfolio spanning 40+ years in healthcare business development and management.
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She’s been recognized with numerous industry lifetime achievement awards for her work in contracted reimbursement, managed care, physician integration and alignment, and health tourism in the USA and 116 countries.
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