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Consulting Firms: The “Prepare Your Client to Succeed” Checklist

Your consulting firm consists of smart, capable consultants, and you have excellent models and processes. So, why don’t your consulting firm’s projects always run as smoothly as a dogsled on packed snow?

For your consulting projects to proceed apace and deliver outstanding results, your clients typically have to participate. They’re responsible for delivering data, forwarding approval, providing snickerdoodles at meetings, and barking speaking up if some part of the project is drifting astray.

Alas, consulting clients aren’t well-trained, cooperative Siberian huskies.

Some of those sled dogs are pulling in the wrong direction, nipping at their neighbors, or halting all progress while they lazily scratch their ears.

What to do?

Think of your consulting projects in three phases: Before the project commences, During execution, and After the project concludes (when the client’s ongoing behavior could determine the ultimate value of your intervention).

Also, consider that you can Prevent your consulting projects from sliding off the trail, and you can Remediate problems that slow your projects’ progress or threaten their value.

Six opportunities. Six checklists. Woof!

For the moment, let’s focus on the power box in the lower left. You’re most likely to bring your clients to heel (so to speak) if you untangle your tuglines and don your warmest mittens before you launch your consulting project with a loud, “Mush!”**

Below is a checklist of Preventative steps Before your project launches that set the stage for your clients to pull their weight during the consulting project.

 “Prepare Your Client to Succeed” Checklist


  • The top of the client organization supports the project.
  • Potential saboteurs have been identified and proactively addressed.
  • The client has clearly identified the individual who will be held accountable if the client organization doesn’t perform.


  • Project support has been communicated from the top to the troops.
  • A shared, project workspace is in place and the client has agreed to use it.
  • The client has identified a point-person to coordinate communication.
  • Permission has explicitly been granted to talk to the decision-maker (or higher) if the client’s behavior is jeopardizing the project.


  • The client is aware of actions expected of them: specific tasks, dates, and people.
  • The client knows the decisions they will have to make and have agreed to how the decisions will be made. (The FARCI approach is useful for this.)
  • The client has signed off on a checklist of resources (people, time, etc.) that they will make available at each stage of the project.


  • Signals and trackers are in place that highlight when the client is not meeting obligations.
  • The consulting agreement specifies a penalty (e.g., a surcharge) for failure to meet obligations (e.g., turning around approvals within two business days), and a benefit (e.g., fee reduction) for flawless performance.

What else do/would you put on your pre-project checklist to ensure your client helps pull his consulting project across the finish line?

  1. Chris Clearfield
    November 20, 2019 at 7:04 am Reply

    Thanks for this, David.

    One quick question — what’s the FARCI acronym? I’ve not come across that one before (and a brief google didn’t yield anything related).


    • David A. Fields
      November 20, 2019 at 8:08 am Reply

      Chris, if you google RACI or ARCI you may find it–those approaches are more common. I add the Final decision maker to the mix.

      Thanks for the clarification question.

  2. Mike Ryan
    November 20, 2019 at 9:25 am Reply

    Fantastic list David!

    Along the lines of communication, one step I’ve built into my client process is a formal kickoff meeting.

    In many ways it’s designed to cover several of the aspects on your list, and create the opportunity to set expectations.

    • David A. Fields
      November 20, 2019 at 9:48 am Reply

      Terrific addition, Mike. I would typically include the kickoff meeting as the first part of project execution. No matter where you classify it, though, a kickoff meeting is absolutely essential to ensuring your client understands their obligations during the project.
      Thank you for bringing up this important practice, Mike.

  3. R. Mallory Starr
    November 20, 2019 at 5:37 pm Reply

    This is really great content and is usable as a guide as well as management auditing items. The items can be for a company project, a division, department or unit of a company, and, even a special task group as well as for use with Boards. An add on could also be a walk around time with the CEO or division or department head as part of introductions and familiarization.

    • David A. Fields
      November 20, 2019 at 5:59 pm Reply

      I love the personal walk-around as part of the orientation or kick-off Mallory. Great addition to the conversation from a very experienced consultant!

  4. Donald Garvett
    November 20, 2019 at 6:47 pm Reply

    David, Great list! It is well correlated with success. Sometimes difficult to achieve all items, especially before assignment initiation.

    Which items do you regard as a) most critical to achieve and b) most difficult to achieve? What is plan B if some items cannot be accomplished?

    • David A. Fields
      November 21, 2019 at 7:22 am Reply

      Great questions, Don. Absolutely non-negotiable is top-level support for the project before the project is signed. Virtually everything else could be accomplished at the very early stages of the project; call it on the cusp of Before and During. As soon as possible, the client has to be aware of the actions expected of them.

      There’s really no Plan B for those two items. They’re deal-breakers on the project. However, virtually every item on the checklist is within your control. Whether or not the client lives up to their agreement is not within your control, but is much, much more likely if you’ve covered the entire pre-project checklist with them in advance.

      Thanks for drilling deeper into the topic, Don!

  5. Steve Tennant
    November 21, 2019 at 11:01 am Reply

    A doggone good article, David! Using it to shape my next agreement! Thank you!

    • David A. Fields
      November 21, 2019 at 5:47 pm Reply

      Cool beans, Steve. Definitely let me know how the checklist works out for you, what you’re able to put in place, and the impact.

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