WestCoast2008:Managing Consultants and Dealing with Vendors

From Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search


This peer sharing workshop will invite participants to compare their processes and tactics for managing critical project relationships that fall outside of organizational boundaries.

Session Notes

Note taker: Erin

Seth’s introduction

Traditional approach

  • Do all the planning, hand off to the developer
  • Development-focused

Agile approach (what Seth used for this most recent project)

  • Iterative
  • Define user stories, what they will do
  • Mini-rounds of development
    • Short, simple
    • Not all polished, but gets more polished as you go along

Be careful about what kind of tool you’re going to use for project management

If you’re doing a project with a consultant, make sure that at least one of you has project management experience

John’s introduction

Key: The entry into a relationship with a client is very important

  • Intangibles (do I like this client? Do we work well together?)
  • Discovery process
    • Not afraid to assess the way they do business to determine where the root of the problem is; is it a tech problem or an HR problem?
    • Doctor role (he diagnoses and provides options, but client does the work)
    • Coach role (he guides while the client does the discovering and the work)

Shared Stories

  • Different working styles & communication styles can make things difficult
    • Have clear definitions of accountability, clearly defined roles
    • Clearly define timelines, regularly schedule feedback meetings
    • Regular communication & contact helps move things along
  • The best projects are where the client comes to it with a clear understanding of what they want to achieve, without being too attached to how they’re going to get there
    • This helps consultants AND vendors
    • Helps to avoid wasting time
    • Sometimes it can be really helpful to sit down with the client and help them really clarify their needs before getting started on the project
  • A good project management system really helps
    • Documenting progress & expectations
    • Sharing project documents
    • Checking on timelines, setting reminders for tasks
    • Can help automate follow-up
  • Consistent vendor-client problems
    • Expectation that the consultant/vendor can do everything they see on the internet
    • Clients sometimes think they can treat you however they want – have to nip projects in the bud that are going to be problems
    • Hurry-up-and-wait; clients will call and say they want something tomorrow, but won’t get the needed materials together for weeks – clear communication of needs and expectations
    • Managing personality conflicts – if a client or the consultant/vendor is not happy, then either the conflict has to be resolved on an individual basis, or you have to end the relationship & recommend other consultants/vendors
  • Reminder emails can be useful to send to your consultant
    • Friendly, low-key, asking if there’s anything they need from you to complete that piece of the project – NOT a “where’s my thing?!” email
  • Consultant should learn the culture of an organization to give the best advice
    • What is their tech capability?
    • What are they comfortable with?
    • Sometimes people are looking for a technical solution to a social problem
  • Building relationships is important
    • Eating meals together can be really helpful in building relationships with clients, vendors, consultants, volunteers, etc.
    • Getting along is important! Don’t be afraid to drop a potential contract if the personal relationship doesn’t gel
    • Remembering human needs & limitations
    • Sometimes switching project managers can help if there is a problem between the PM and the client; the chemistry may improve
    • You’ll get a lot more honesty from people when you need it, and you can be more honest with them without damaging the working relationship
  • It can be a good idea to make the client take notes and send them to you, so you see that they understand the project goals & expectations
  • People forget to say thank you; it makes a huge difference as a consultant to be appreciated
  • Giving a heads-up to consultants is really helpful


  • How much do you involve a consultant in evaluating program needs when the project is an assessment of your needs?
    • How big is the budget? How do you want to use your resources?
    • Look at where you want to be in a few months, in terms of what you want to know/understand
    • Each time the scope changes, you have to re-evaluate your budget; can a staff person or team do this work instead?
    • Every consultant has different skills & areas of expertise; ask the consultant if they could do this larger part of the project, but don’t expect to wrap in broader scope to the current budget