Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Consulting assignment life cycle 15: final reports, hand-offs and assignment product ownership

Posted in consulting, job search by Timothy Platt on May 31, 2012

This is my fifteenth installment on consulting and the consulting assignment life cycle (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 225-238 for parts 1-14.)

I have been successively discussing consulting as a career option in general in this series and after that the consulting assignment life cycle as a best practices process. Just as with Part 14: licensing agreements and use of third party resources, this posting is offered to address a set of consulting assignment best practices that arise toward the end of an assignment, and in this case I focus on three closely related sets of issues.

I would start here with the consulting assignment final report, submitted to a consultant’s employer as they finish up.

• One of the goals of any consulting practice should be the cultivation of repeat business with your clients.
• In this context, while a final consulting assignment report marks the end of the assignment, it is in many respects also a new potential beginning. A well planned out, drafted and presented final report closes out the assignment but it is also a marketing tool. These reports represent the last work that a manager will see from you as a consultant as you finish up and they will convey or at least significantly color the impression that this manager and this hiring business take away about you as a consultant. So drafting and presenting an effective final report both completes the one assignment and can also serve as a springboard for future work as this client finds further need for consultant help.

And this leads to a simple question. What should go into a final report? The goal is that this document be useful and to the point, and that it not simply be filed away as so much excess verbiage.

• The core function of a final report should be to effectively hand off the product of the consulting assignment to the client so they can use it effectively and with minimal problems or issues arising.
• The report should briefly outline what was done.
• It should clearly spell out any licensing and other third party issues that might apply (and see Part 14: licensing agreements and use of third party resources .)
• It should outline any follow-up that the client will have to perform, and here I include user training and help desk support.
• These are basic, generic issues. The key here is that the client not find themselves confronted by unexpected surprises. Think through and cover any potential friction points, and particularly any that could not be limited or prevented in the work of the assignment itself.

A simple, short duration single task assignment might not call for a final report but any larger and more complex assignment requires this final step.

Closely related to the final report is the project and product hand-off. Some of this will be in the final report and for that I include information on any computer files or other information resources that you have been maintaining related to this project, and both in the client’s own servers and in the cloud where that applies. Provide information on what resources are available, where they are and any login and password information needed to access them.

But an effective hand-off includes more than just adding extra content into a final report. It also means meeting with the key stakeholders who you have been working with whowill use and rely on your work, to make sure they are up to speed and that any last questions on their part are dealt with. And include your contact information in the final report and in the hand-off in general.

The last item on my list to be covered in this series installment is that of ownership.

• As a consultant, you frequently find yourself working in the context of your client’s proprietary knowledge and with confidential information that they hold. This can include business process and technology information. This can include customer database information and a wide range of other resources that you would need to see or make use of in order to carry out your consulting assignment, but that you would not be authorized to either retain or to bring to any future assignments with other clients. This is in most cases going to be covered in nondisclosure agreements signed at the beginning of the assignment but prudence would dictate that you use your judgment to also include information that is not explicitly covered there but that you know from experience has to be considered proprietary.
• Any work you do for this client is property of this client and becomes proprietary for them. That means software code you develop, unless it is covered under an open source or similar agreement. And you need to get that clarified up-front before employing open source resources as ownership issues can be crucially important.
• Client proprietary ownership includes any and all documentation that you provide.

I will add a very specific example of how management of, and recognition of ownership can go wrong. And this example is based on my own consulting experience where I was working with a client in collaboration with a second consultant. They were a database programmer and a skilled one and came to this job with a large library of programming modules that they had developed as their own resources. This programmer marketed themselves as a consultant by citing their code library as proof of their ability and experience in the field. And they used blocks of that code that they had developed on their own in the work they did for this client. Then they balked and refused to let the client take access to their proprietary software code and the entire assignment collapsed. Basically, they pulled the database work they had done “for the client” out of the assignment and its deliverables, and right before we were supposed to jointly give a presentation on what we had been doing, as a major benchmarking milestone.

The issues I write of here are important. So are the issues and complications that can and do arise from them when consultants do not follow best practices approaches and really think through the consequences of the decisions that they make and the actions they take.

I am going to more fully discuss the issues of completing the assignment cycle and moving on to a next assignment in my next series installment. I have already touched on a part of this with my notes above, on final reports. My focus in the next installment will be on networking and on developing references and recommendations, and cultivating both new and repeat business opportunities. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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