Consulting RFPs

A Sure Guide to Fail a Consulting Project

There are many reasons why consulting projects fail. And, while you can’t always blame the Consulting Firm for everything that goes wrong, there’s no denying that they’re part of the problem.

A Sure Guide to Fail a Consulting Project

We’ve covered the safe techniques to derail a consulting project in this post (and a little of levity).


Consulting has always followed the ups and downs of the economy. The industry is quite adaptable and has been through rough phases but always recovered.

1- Let’s make a mess of these needs!

The first step to ruin your consulting project is to make sure the needs are vague or unclear.

Aim for the moon or Jupiter.

Consultants brag they are the best and brightest professionals. Let’s put them to the test. Setting unrealistic expectations is the cornerstone of a failed consulting project. If you are really sneaky, define objectives that look realistic, but are not in reality.

The consultants won’t be able to deliver but they will blame themselves! That’s always better than blaming yourself, right?

Doesn’t this contradict what I wrote in my last blog post about core competencies and sourcing capability? Yes, it does! Thank goodness we can learn from failure then. We all love surprises on our invoices, don’t we?

Don’t define deliverables or the timeline

Another huge mistake that some inexperienced companies do: defining exactly what results they expect, and under which form. If you really want to get the consultants lost and generate frustration on both sides, don’t include deliverables in your RFP. And if you are really a gambler, don’t include them in the contract either.

Remember, expectations are everything. If you don’t know what the consulting firm is doing on your behalf, how will they? If you give them a vision of where to go or deliverables that make sense for your company, then consulting project success would be assured!

Don’t identify and involve the main stakeholders

Another great way to make sure the consulting project is going nowhere is to make sure the main stakeholders are not identified nor involved. The worse that could happen is for you to build a consensus over the objectives of the project, and to have the main stakeholders embrace the project. Think to not inform your teams about the purpose of the project and how it will unfold. Worst-case scenario, you will probably be able to delay the project.

2- Never work with the right consultants –

A consulting project is doomed to succeed if you are working with consultants that have the right skills and experience. They will probably help you solve your needs the right way…or worse deliver them on time. And this happens quite often, sadly.

Don’t establish a profile …. Just go by instinct

Consultants are clones. They look the same, they have the same background, the same experience field. They have worked on the same projects, in the same industry. Why should you care about working with the right guys? They are all the right guys. Or are they? Let’s take the last one you worked with. Not the same expertise required ? Who cares.

Never look for the right chemistry

Don’t listen to the naysayers that tell you to assess the fit with a Consultant before hiring them. You can choose the Consulting Firm with the best name or the fanciest office. Don’t listen to the Consultants and don’t ask yourself if you could work with them. Even better, choose them on paper only or grade the proposal with a set of 6-face dice.

Cookie cutters are not only for baking

Consultants hate to develop customized methodologies and solutions. Client is not king. The Consultant should decide on the what, how and when. You are supposed to listen respectfully and just agree with them and never asked for customization. This is just how Consulting is working, get used to it. Besides, that’s your best bet to have a project that doesn’t fit your needs.

Make sure there’s no plan B

During the sourcing phase, be dismissive of the second-runners. Be the bad guy. An angry consulting firm will most probably refuse to take on a project if the first attempt has failed.

3- Please don’t manage your project –

You didn’t have all the latitude to derail the project during the sourcing phase? Don’t worry, you can still make it during the project.

The more it changes, the more it is the same

The life of a project will be sprinkled with twists and turns. Embrace the changes in scope whether they come from your teams or the consultants. Never ask about the potential on the workload and the price before you make your decisions. Everybody loves to have a surprise when receiving an invoice.

Don’t ask consultants for input during meetings.

The last thing you want when consulting firms are working with management teams is an open dialogue about their needs and direction. No one likes surprises in consulting projects but this really takes it too far doesn’t it? Why not get rid of all consultant feedback right from the start by simply asking them if they have any questions before every meeting/presentation instead of letting them provide some valuable insight into improving results?

You are not the captain of the ship

You might think: “My house, my rules”. But you got it wrong. If you take control of the project and manage the consultants, your project has a fair chance to succeed. Is it really what you want? Why not let the consultants take over? They will make sure that the project follows their agenda.

Two heads are always better than one

If you have been around a bit, you know that the worse thing that can happen to a project is to have several persons in charge. You don’t want the project to deliver in time and quality? Forget about the governance. Who needs a Steering Committee today? Besides defining roles and responsibilities might actually help the consulting team to identify who to talk to. Don’t do that.

Play it Loch Ness Monster

Consultants tend to be very smart. They might see through you and understand you are the mastermind behind the project. They will come to you to get answers and get things to move forward. Don’t make yourself available, don’t manage the team. The Partner in charge wants to meet you? Avoid him. The good news is that you will be able to blame the consultants anyway.

Make sure the upper management doesn’t commit

Another key failure factor for a project is the lack of commitment of senior executives. If they support fully the project, you are doomed: your project has very high chances to go through and be successful. When senior management is committed to a project, your teams tend to welcome the consultants and work closely with them. This is so wrong.

Cooperation rhymes with treason

Working openly with consultants is a sure way to give them all the levers to succeed in delivering high-quality work. Forbid your teams to cooperate with the consulting teams. Threaten and punish if necessary. You cannot afford to give the consultants the information they need to achieve your goals.

4- And a little bonus: Always bring your hidden agenda to the project –

This solution is best for Executives with a plan. If you really want a project to fail, you can pretend to agree with the objectives and the choice of consultants, and then do everything to make sure you choose the consultants that will push your agenda, and not necessarily deliver on the expectations of the rest of the ream.

5- Translation –

Don’t do any of these things. When it comes to finding a consulting firm, you really need to know what your needs are. Are you looking for help with developing strategies or executing them? Do you want someone that can provide hands-on assistance as well as handle the day-to-day management of your project? If so, make sure you find a consultant who has experience in those areas and is qualified for the type of work required. It’s also important to manage your project from day one by establishing clear expectations and deadlines; this will save both time and money which often leads to more success!

Check out our website today if any of these pitfalls sound familiar or have led to trouble on past projects. We offer free consultations where we can discuss any questions.

Hélène Laffitte
Co-founder & CEO at Consulting Quest
Hélène is the author of Smart Consulting Sourcing, a step by step guide to getting the best ROI from your Consuting. You can follow @helenelaffitte on Twitter.

Hélène Laffitte is the CEO of Consulting Quest, a Global Performance-Driven Consulting Platform and author of “Smart Consulting Sourcing”, a step by step guide to getting the best ROI from your consulting. With a blend of experience in Procurement and Consulting, Hélène is passionate about helping Companies create more value through Consulting.

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Hélène Laffitte is the CEO of Consulting Quest, a Global Performance-Driven Consulting Platform and author of “Smart Consulting Sourcing”, a step by step guide to getting the best ROI from your consulting. With a blend of experience in Procurement and Consulting, Hélène is passionate about helping Companies create more value through Consulting.