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Is Your Consulting Firm Stretched Thin? How to Handle Even More Projects

Your consulting firm has experienced boom times. You may even be navigating a high tide of consulting projects now thanks to your excellent product-market fit, your diligent business development efforts or the kind winds of fate.

When business is strong and your entire consulting team is already working at capacity, how do you create time to work on the business? To devote to firm-building activities? To invest into marketing? To prop your heels on the desk and savor a hot cocoa?

And when your consulting firm is maxed out, how do you react when even more opportunities pour over the transom?

You could turn away prospects and decline the engagements they offer.

Yikes. Turn away work?! That’s as appealing as a swarm of murder hornets nesting in your cookie jar.

Fortunately, your treat closet is stocked with better options. You can increase your consulting firm’s capacity and, importantly, you can shift workload on current and potential projects to smooth the demands on your crew.

Strategies to Increase Capacity

  • Hire Staff. Adding qualified personnel is part of your consulting firm’s long-term answer. Finding and training consultants takes time. A lot of time. If you’re consistently bumping against your consulting firm’s capacity ceiling, shift your hunt for new talent into high gear.
  • Subcontract (a.k.a. swing capacity). Subcontracting pieces of your consulting projects is a faster, more flexible path to managing capacity swings. For every skill set that is important to your firm’s delivery, ensure you have access to a pool of outside resources (i.e., more than one) you can tap.
  • Streamline Your Work. Automate and eliminate as much of your consulting firm’s work process as possible. Bring in a “process czar” who is expert at identifying waste and compressing processes.
  • Work to a 95. Delight your clients without overworking your projects. You can provide outstanding, A+ results that thrill your consulting firm’s buyers without losing time and critical capacity to perfectionist tendencies.

Strategies to Shift Current Project Workload

  • Re-negotiate Deadlines. You can probably delay your consulting deliverables a couple of weeks or even a month or two unless your project is on your client’s critical path. Check in with your clients to see if you can push back a labor-intensive deliverable.
  • Delegate to Clients. Clients who participate in the development of deliverables appreciate those deliverables more. Huh. What a handy excuse to “collaborate” with your consulting firm’s clients by offloading some time intensive tasks to them.

Strategies to Shift New Project Workload

  • Negotiate Start Dates. Delaying a new consulting project’s kick-off by a few weeks may make all the difference to your busy consulting staff.
  • Negotiate Deliverable Dates. As noted above (and here), consulting clients don’t always place high value on rapid delivery. Therefore, you can take on another project more comfortably if you suggest manageable timelines in your project proposal.
  • Slow Walk Project Start. One way to create a breather for your consulting firm is to start new projects slowly. For instance, you can devote the first few weeks of your project to collecting client information or to outsourced secondary research while you wrap up other consulting engagements.
  • Negotiate Capacity Call Options. One of the cleverest terms you can build into your consulting proposals is permission to “take a vacation” on a project. Usually your client will agree to a week or two sabbatical as long as you provide notice three or four weeks in advance. You can then exercise the option as needed to deal with surges in demand on your consulting firm.
  • Delegate to Clients. Why wait until your consulting project is in motion to generously share the workload with your clients? From the outset, propose an approach that involves your client and reduces your consulting firm’s capacity requirements.

How else do you ensure you can take on more clients and consulting projects when business is already booming at your consulting firm?


8 Comments
  1. Susan Moore
    November 4, 2020 at 9:43 am Reply

    I’ve used all but the sabbatical approach strategy when we’re overloaded. And sometimes I drag my feet on setting up the transition call with the client and the consultants. It has made a difference!

    • David A. Fields
      November 9, 2020 at 11:00 am Reply

      Managing project flow definitely makes a difference in your ability to deliver more work when you’re busy. Thank you for the supportive comment, Susan.

  2. Debbie
    November 4, 2020 at 9:55 am Reply

    I’ve used the approach of asking during the context discussion, by when is the client looking to see the results of our efforts. Often times their timeframe is longer than the one I was thinking.

    • David A. Fields
      November 9, 2020 at 11:01 am Reply

      Good on you for making the most of the discovery process, Debbie. Your experience is an excellent reminder for many consultants that we shouldn’t always assume faster project completion is better for our clients. I’m glad you shared!

  3. Jenn
    November 4, 2020 at 1:59 pm Reply

    I love the idea of the sabbatical approach. I think that is a mutually beneficial term because sometimes a client doesn’t move forward because they are afraid they won’t have time to devote to it. Both sides having the ability to take a pause is good.

    • David A. Fields
      November 9, 2020 at 11:02 am Reply

      Yes, the sabbatical is a creative and beneficial addition to most consulting contracts. You’re absolutely right, Jenn!

  4. Alistair Hodgett
    November 11, 2020 at 6:14 am Reply

    A variation on the ‘slow walk’ at kickoff is to slow the cadence of the project while in progress. Especially where there are lots of interactions with a client, rather than sending a WIP as soon as it is completed, use ‘schedule send’ to cue it up for closer to the real due date or review point. This is less overt than a renegotiation of a deliverable date, but moving the cadence back to a 10 day cycle rather than weekly opens up space to advance other projects.

    • David A. Fields
      November 11, 2020 at 6:54 am Reply

      It sounds like you’re suggesting two different strategies, Alistair. One is to send materials, etc. for client review near the due date rather than early, which retards the feedback cycle. The other is to lengthen the cadence of the feedback cycle itself, particularly if you set up regular, periodic check-in meetings with the client.

      Both strategies are well worth considering when your capacity is stretched, and I’m glad you contributed them Alistair!

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