Eventually projects with consultants come to an end. Similar to completion of a good run as an employee of a firm, feelings at the end of a consulting project can be bittersweet. For me, the sweetness of successfully completing a project feels great, while the end of the day-to-day, close working relationship with the client can make one reflect for a moment longer.
Over the years through consulting mentors, peers, and personal experience, I’ve learned of some tricks to making transitions smoother for both clients and consultants. Here are some:
- Clients and consultants should develop a mutual understanding of how the relationship will eventually end in terms of time of transition. While we don’t need pre-nuptials, recognize that relationship communication is a two-way street. Some consulting partners explicitly discuss with client executives the notion of gradually winding down longer-term relationships over periods of months (versus days or weeks) so that business and operational needs are met.
- The mutual understanding of project duration with clients and consultants may be specified in terms of project phases. Using product development lifecycle terms, the two parties may define a relationship scope to be around early phases such as ideation, planning, design, development, & incubation versus ongoing management. A twist on this may be identifying the strategic roadmap, blue sky, whiteboard areas, etc. that the client will work on regardless of consultant involvement (and then picking where the consultant will work). Once the areas are complete, the client-consultant relationship will end.
- Support the transition process with documentation, project closeout meetings, and the like. These are basic project management fundamentals, and in the cases where project boundaries may be less clear (e.g., due to a long-term relationship with a client), having tangible outputs and meeting points can help parties to transition.
- In cases of certain strategic initiative, interim management, and special-situation consulting arrangements, transition success can be measured by how effective permanent hires are onboarded. The tactical transitions can include the consultant helping with securing new financial budgets for an organization, providing knowledge transfer of strategy and planning efforts, shadowing new hire efforts, and helping to build out the initial ongoing processes.
Finally, celebrate both the relationships built and advances made together. This is where marriage and the client-consultant relationship analogy works better – hard work makes the bond stronger. And your “ex” may actually refer you in this case.