Surefire strategy #8 for producing a consulting train wreck: “Just focus on what you can control, you can’t be blamed for the actions of others”
The next of my guaranteed approaches for driving the 4:55 to Deliverable City off the tracks at Milestone Curve is “Just Focus on What You Can Control, You Can’t be Blamed for the Actions of Others”. Strategy #8 typically unfolds something like this –
During the development of your strategic sourcing consulting proposal you include a section, usually somewhere near the back, called “Project Assumptions and Risks” (or something similar) where you lay out all the things that could possibly go wrong on the project and define all the assumptions that must be true for these things not to happen (e.g. business unit buy-in to ensure adequate spend is available to negotiate best possible pricing with suppliers, availability of client resources to support collection of all required data, etc.). You might even define a proactive risk management plan describing actions that can be taken to doubly ensure that the dark events do not occur. This could include steps such as forming executive steering committees, cross-functional project work teams and stakeholder focus groups. You submit your proposal, win the work, and arrive at the client site. You engage first gear and start rolling down the work plan track, confident that (i) you have every possible eventuality covered and (ii) that if something does go wrong it must be some force majeure, the fault for which cannot possibly be laid at your door…..
About six weeks into the project disaster strikes. One of the client’s largest business units decides it will withdraw from the project and instead renegotiate with its incumbent supplier (who had declined to respond to the RFP), effectively removing over 40% of your spend base. Within 48 hours, five of your shortlisted supplier candidates have got wind of the spend that has “left the table” and not surprisingly become much less willing to extend the type of pricing you were hoping for. At a hastily convened executive steering committee meeting, some key of the key dialogue includes:
CLIENT CFO: Quite frankly I was concerned about something like this happening. The complete value proposition of the sourcing exercise was always questionable if we lost business unit support.
YOU: I have to admit I’m very surprised. Sarah seemed completely on board at the kick-off meeting. I guess their supplier decided to do what it took to keep the business.
CLIENT VP PROCUREMENT: Colin tells me that our five shortlisted suppliers from the RFP first round have rescinded their pricing based upon the lower spend. The average contract savings is now only 3% - hardly the solid business case for persuading the other business units to switch….
CLIENT CFO (turning to you): I thought your risk management plan was designed to address every contingency. Don’t we have a plan B? I put my neck out for this project – really hyped it to the business units and the board.
YOU: Well, we did specify that a major assumption was having full business unit support, and like I said Sarah was saying all the right words at the kick-off. I don’t know what else we could have done...
(CLIENT CFO shakes his head in frustration).
Shortly after this meeting takes place the client cancels the sourcing project, pays your firm for services rendered to date and you are left scratching your head about whether you could have done anything differently. Well, could you have? Sarah turning to the Dark Side was outside of your control wasn’t it? Well, it turns out that you could have done something different and you might even have been able to prevent Sarah succumbing to the siren call of her incumbent’s bargain basement pricing. What? You could (in fact, should) have implemented a Stakeholder Management Plan.
A stakeholder management plan is the only way to deal with those pesky client folks who sneak up on you and drop grenades into your project team’s bunker just as you are all enjoying the idyllic peacefulness of a smoothly unfolding work plan. A stakeholder management plan is an approach to unmask these individuals in the earliest stages of project planning so that you can understand their motivations, their objectives and – most importantly - their ability to derail your engagement. A best practice stakeholder management plan should be incorporated into any consulting project that requires the involvement and support of influential individuals that are not members of the core project team. This will certainly be the case in the majority of strategic sourcing projects, particularly those addressing categories where procurement has not historically enjoyed a strong decision-making role. In these cases the following steps should be taken:
Step 1: Immediately post-sale, work with your client’s project sponsor to map key stakeholders on a matrix of “Influence (low or high)” against “Support (low or high)”. Utilize your sponsor’s knowledge of his/her organization to surface issues that may not be instantly apparent such as Sarah’s long term relationship with her business unit’s largest incumbent supplier and the ease with which her support might crumble if the supplier moved to aggressively protect its business.
Step 2: For stakeholders like Sarah you should work with your sponsor to secure her support by suggesting ways that her objectives could be met by supporting the project. For example this could involve asking her to persuade her incumbent to participate in the RFP, or perhaps to more aggressively market the impact that the sourcing project’s savings will have on her business unit’s P&L.
Step 3: Enlist the help of high influence/high support stakeholders to market the positive aspects of the project to the “Sarahs” of the organization, particularly those in similar situations, e.g. ones that have their own incumbent suppliers who stand to be impacted by the sourcing project. Ask these stakeholders to explain why they are supporting the project – task them to bring Sarah into the “high support” camp.
Step 4: Monitor stakeholders like Sarah closely during the project to make sure they stay committed. If they waver, do the work to understand their concerns and leverage your supportive stakeholders as needed to help her maintain her resolve.
Follow the steps above and you will avoid the derailing of your project by client stakeholders over whom you have no control. In fact, by following the steps above – by proactively identifying and managing these stakeholders – you will in fact have a large measure of control over any individual who could foil the success of your project.
In other words – yes, AVOID AT ALL COSTS Surefire Strategy #8 for Producing a Consulting Project Train Wreck “Just Focus on what You Can Control, You Can’t be Blamed for the Actions of Others”!! Implement the antithesis of Strategy #8 instead! Always include Stakeholder Assessment & Management as a formal, integrated component of your project work plan.
1 Procurement Place
Non-spin commentary on the world of procurement, supported every now and then by the occasional piece of factual information.
Mark is Founder and CEO of SpendWorx LLC, a provider of spend analytics services. Prior to SpendWorx Mark co-founded Treya Partners, a boutique procurement consultancy. Earlier in his career Mark held various positions at Accenture, GE Aviation and Rolls-Royce.