Every management consulting project is driven by a business requirement. Often, management consulting businesses are called upon to meet those business requirements by enhancing the productivity, management, delivery or performance of a company’s information technology investment.

Investing in the right IT solutions – and implementing them optimally – can enhance business performance, reduce costs, and create a more-productive work force for your client. On the other hand, the failure of a high-cost project can make a company reluctant to pursue future technology investments, resulting in a performance gap between the company and its competitors.

That’s one reason why so many companies look to management consultants to oversee IT-related projects: They want to be sure they’re getting the highest possible performance out of their investment.

Getting IT Right

When you’re involved in a management consulting project that involves IT, it’s important to translate the client’s business requirements into an approach that truly meets the business need and can help to fully utilize the client’s IT assets.

It’s easy for a management consultant to sit in a meeting and listen to what the clients say they need their IT solution to do. But what happens when what the client says and what you think they mean are different? When your approach to the problem misses the mark your client will find you at fault, leaving you wide open to a lawsuit.

If your client claims that you didn’t achieve the business results they were looking for, and if that claim results in a suit, you could be in for a lot of hassle and expense – especially if you don’t have the right liability insurance for management consulting businesses. Beyond avoiding lawsuits, it just makes good business sense to do the job right, so you can position yourself as a capable management expert with an IT edge.

Good Project Management Equals Good Risk Management

So how does a management consultant translate a customer’s business needs into an IT solution that solves the customer’s business problem? The answer lies in solid project management. Businesses with lax project management practices are much more likely to have professional liability claims than those with formal project management processes in place. Well-established project management processes can significantly reduce your management consulting liability.

According to project management expert Karl Wiegers, one of the critical first steps for anyone involved in management consulting or IT projects is defining a project’s vision and scope. For each project, it makes sense to clearly outline in writing:

• Business requirements. All detailed requirements should be based on clear business needs. Management consultants can gather business requirements from the client’s senior management, an executive sponsor, a project visionary, product management, the marketing department, or any other stakeholder with a clear understanding of the need for the project and the value it will provide to the client company and its customers.

• Vision of the solution. A long-term vision for any new IT system or approach will provide context for decision-making throughout the project. The vision statement should not include detailed functional requirements or project planning information.

• Scope and limitations. This is the place to define the proposed solution’s concept and range, along with what will not be included in the project. Clarifying the project’s scope and limitations establishes realistic expectations for everyone involved, as well as a frame of reference that the team can use to evaluate proposed requirements changes.

• Business context. It’s important to clarify and summarize any business issues related to the project, including profiles of major customer categories, assumptions that went into the project concept, and management’s priorities.

To reduce your own risk and make the project management process easier, it may be wise to follow an established project initiation and management process. For a Project Vision and Scope Template you can use with your own projects, see the free downloads at the end of this article.

10 Requirement Traps to Avoid

According to Wiegers, successful projects are built on a foundation of well-understood requirements. Yet too often, management consultants and others involved in IT projects get caught in traps that prevent them from effectively collecting, documenting or managing project requirements.

Several symptoms indicate that you might be getting caught in a "requirement trap":

• Confusion about what a requirement is
• Lack of customer involvement
• Vague or ambiguous requirements
• Unprioritized requirements
• Functionality that no one uses
• Analysis paralysis
• Scope creep
• Inadequate requirements change process
• Insufficient change impact analysis
• Inadequate requirements version control

Speak Your Customer’s Language

As you develop your vision and scope document, be sure that you and your client are speaking the same language. Using simple language and striving for clarity can help prevent misunderstandings.

If your documentation is less than clear, the project team could be several months into the project before any misunderstandings become apparent, and when that happens, management consultants commonly see “scope creep.” Suddenly, meeting the client’s need is going to take more time and money than anyone anticipated. At this point, you’re facing a huge management consulting liability, as some customers will stop writing checks and talk to a lawyer.

A careful and thorough approach to project management in the early stages of a project greatly reduces your risk. By clearly documenting a project's vision and scope in writing, and fully clarifying project requirements, you can create a proposal that will meet the business need, contain costs, an reduce the risk that you’ll end up fighting a lawsuit down the line.

Author's Bio: 

About the Author:
James Cochran is the founder of Business Insurance Now. For more than a decade, Jim has been helping consultants get the best management consulting liability insurance and general liability insurance available. Business Insurance Now’s network of carriers can get you the best quotes on management consulting business insurance.