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The Perfect Consulting Deliverable

Every time you reach a consulting project’s milestone you’d like your client to be so delighted with your deliverable that they leap with joy, slather you with praise and immediately investigate whether your results can be immortalized in a Taylor Swift song. How do you craft a consulting deliverable that compels such love?

The outputs of consulting projects vary widely. From simple advice, to plans, findings, recommendations, or complex implementation reports, just to name a few examples.

Regardless of the form your consulting product takes, you want your clients to prize your work.

Are there characteristics common to all consulting firm deliverables that invoke a positive reaction from your clients? Undoubtedly.

Let’s specify the attributes of the perfect consulting deliverable. We’ll create a checklist, of sorts, that will allow you to review your own deliverables before they grace your clients’ desks and dial up your consulting firm’s impact a notch or two.

The handful of suggestions below will get us started. Other consultants have supplemented my original list, but this article needs your recommendations too. (I’ve purposely left off one of the most obvious attributes so that you can mention it when you submit your suggestions. At the moment, no one has yet suggested it.)

Attributes of Perfect Consulting Deliverables

Right-Side Up – Your deliverable is about your client, not you. It gives the information they need, the way they need it. As Anne says in the comments (below), Right-Side Up deliverables also take into account any cultural issues or requirements.

Is your deliverable highlighting your work or your client’s results?

Told as a Story – Every consulting deliverable is a story. It articulates the ultimate point, message, or thesis, and includes an easily-followed path from where the client was to where you’ve taken the client. Note, I’m not suggesting your deliverables read like a novel—rather, your consulting outputs should lead your clients logically to a conclusion. Susan and Robert pointed out that deliverable stories are best when they’re practical, not theoretical, there’s a clear, summary and road map at the beginning and, if necessary, mile markers along the way.

What’s your deliverable’s story?

Clearly Communicated – Your story will only resonate with the client if your telling is understandable, unambiguous and compelling. Eschew ponderous , stilted, pretentious language. That’s for professors, not consultants. Make generous use of metaphors, frameworks and graphics. Below, Catrin gives a few more tips for clear deliverables.

Is your story plainly stated and illustrated so that it’s crystal clear to your client?

Reassuring – Your clients risk their money, time, and reputation when they hired you. Your deliverables should relieve any doubt about investing in your consulting firm’s work.

What will buoy your client’s confidence in the deliverable?

New-Balanced – The best consulting outputs perfectly combine information that is new (a.k.a. “Aha!”) and confirmatory (a.k.a. “I knew that.”). They simultaneously tell clients, “It’s a good thing you hired us” and “You’re smart too”.

Do you have the right new-balance in your deliverable?

Reputation Enhancing – As Simon points out (in the comments), clients take on reputation risk when they hire you. Your deliverable should reward them by making them look good to their colleagues and, especially, those above them.

Will your client be proud to show off your deliverable?

Collaborative – Joyce astutely noted that clients care about how deliverables are created and that partnering with them in the creation of your output adds value. Susan added that the delivery should also be open and engaging. Collaborative from end to end.

Are you building your deliverable with your client?

Forward Looking – Carole suggests (below) that your deliverables always suggest the clients next steps. Importantly, those next steps should be what’s best for the client, which may or may not involve further work with you.

Does your deliverable recommend the client’s post-project actions?

What else? There are more attributes to the perfect consulting deliverable. Contribute your suggestions as a comment, and I’ll add them to the list (like I did with Simon’s idea).

What else makes a perfect deliverable?


 

33 Comments
  1. Simon James
    November 15, 2017 at 7:45 am Reply

    Something they are happy to show to a boss or colleague?

    • David A. Fields
      November 15, 2017 at 7:49 am Reply

      Good idea, Simon. Hiring a consultant involves reputation risk, and the perfect deliverable rewards him for taking that risk by adding to the client’s reputation. I’ll add this to the list, above.

  2. Anonymous
    November 15, 2017 at 7:53 am Reply

    I’ve learned that the clients are just as (or perhaps more) concerned about HOW the deliverable is created than the final deliverable itself. Partnering with the client is just as important as what is delivered in the end.

    • David A. Fields
      November 15, 2017 at 8:01 am Reply

      Oustanding point, whoever you are! (A setting must have changed to allow anonymous posting. Please come back and share your name.) Every project should involve the client. I’ve found a work session or two along the way makes for a happy, engaged client at the end. I’ll add that your suggestion to the list above.

      • Joyce Petrella
        November 15, 2017 at 8:05 am Reply

        LOL! that was me. I hit enter too quickly. I will repost with my signature.

      • Anatoli Naoumov
        November 15, 2017 at 11:37 am Reply

        Process is an inseparable part of the project deliverable.

        • David A. Fields
          November 15, 2017 at 11:46 am

          Anatoli, I’m not 100% sure what you mean by this particular comment. Are you suggesting that the process leads to the deliverable or that you should convey your process to the client? In many cases, consultants spend too much time talking about their process when, in fact, it’s largely irrelevant and uninteresting to the client. To the extent the process is critical to the story, it should be included, though. I definitely agree with you on that.

  3. Joyce Petrella
    November 15, 2017 at 7:58 am Reply

    I have learned that clients are just as concerned about HOW the deliverable is created as the content and quality of the deliverable itself. Partnering with the clients ensures you are co-developing the deliverables in a way that builds trust and minimizes risk of surprises.

    • David A. Fields
      November 15, 2017 at 8:06 am Reply

      Thanks for adding your name, Joyce. (And thank you for adding your voice to the conversation).

  4. Carole Napolitano
    November 15, 2017 at 7:58 am Reply

    Provides a clear next step or two — The client’s situation might be complicated (that’s why they consulted you), so you can provide value by helping them gain a sense of control one step at a time.

    What one or two things can the client do to get unstuck, reduce overwhelm, experience forward motion?.

    • David A. Fields
      November 15, 2017 at 8:08 am Reply

      You’re right, Carole. Our projects are part of the client’s journey, not the destination itself. Even if our role in their progress is coming to an end (and we hope it’s not), our work product should give guidance that will help them continue their progress. Very nice addition.

  5. Susan Markham
    November 15, 2017 at 8:44 am Reply

    I find clients want a really clear road map of what we’re going to cover, how we’re going to get there, and what relevance or value this will provide. Then they’re anxious to get to work. Too much theory or concept, while interesting and even entertaining, leaves them thinking “yes, but where is this going and how is it relevant”. Clearly lay out what we’ll be covering, how we’ll be doing that, and set context and manage their expectations throughout. Also, make it a really safe space for them to participate and engage fully by being inclusive of everyone and everything they offer.

    • David A. Fields
      November 15, 2017 at 8:49 am Reply

      I totally agree, Susan, that a clear outline of the deliverable can be very helpful. So can place markers along the way. Those points are supposed to be inside the ideas of creating a story and clearly communicating that story, but I didn’t pull out the particular pieces you’ve highlighted. A safe space is another excellent addition to the discussion.

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