Red flags that your consulting engagement is in trouble

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Takeaway: Brad Egeland encourages IT consultants to watch for these four warning signs during their engagements so they have a better shot of preventing project failures.

IT consultants work alone much of the time. We usually make our own decisions about IT consulting work, and we don’t rely on or want daily interaction with a manager or director. This also means that we generally succeed or fail on our own efforts. Sometimes it can be difficult to take a step back and recognize (and admit) that things aren’t going well with a consulting engagement. Here are four warning signs that should get your attention.

1: The client is becoming more involved and asking a lot more questions.
You’re cruising along on the engagement, and everything seems to be going well and yet your client has become much more heavily involved in the day-to-day aspects of the project you’re leading. They’re asking lots of questions, requiring more frequent status updates, and getting involved in the smallest of decisions that you need to make.

This might be a sign that someone at the client company is concerned with your ability to deliver; or, perhaps the client is trying to impress his or her boss by appearing more hands-on with the project. It’s best to speak with the client to try to understand the reason for their increased interest in your project. You might find the client has received inaccurate information about your work on the project, and this is a good opportunity to discuss such issues.

2: The client has assigned someone to shadow you.
If you suddenly find yourself with a client-side project manager who seems to be joined at your hip, you’ve probably been deemed unreliable for some reason. You may have made a decision that the client didn’t agree with, or you may just not be communicating well enough or often enough. For whatever reason, the client doubts your abilities and is working to protect their interests. Remember that your reputation is on the line here. You should schedule a face-to-face meeting with your client-side sponsor to figure out what happened to cause them to lose faith in your work.

3: You’ve missed two or more deadlines.
If you’ve started to slip on deadlines, you may not have realized that you’re overloaded. You should take some time to re-assess your project, your client’s needs, and your current workload and try to make adjustments before your client makes them for you. The last thing you want is for your client to end the engagement mid-stream because they’ve lost confidence in your ability to deliver in a timely manner.

4: Your invoices are not being paid on time.
If your invoices are not paid in a timely manner, it may just be a sign that your client is having cash flow issues; however, it’s possible this is your client’s passive-aggressive way of expressing their dissatisfaction in your work. Customers sometimes do strange things to get your attention. You need to address this issue with clients as soon as possible to find out the reason for the late payments.

Summary
It’s not in your best interest to ignore these warning signs. You should talk with your client to determine the root cause of their concern and then figure out steps to take to resolve the problem before it gets worse and puts the engagement at risk. The last thing you want is a failed consulting engagement hanging over your head when you could have been proactive and avoided that outcome.

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