There are times when by-the-book is important.  Be stubborn, stick to your guns, be unwavering.  You know the drill.  But as a consultant you know that will only get you so far when you’re dealing with clients who are somewhat vague on what they need you to do for them.  They’re relying on your expertise and creativity to guide them down a path that they kind of know they need to be on.  At the end of that path may be a solution that they have no idea or concept of – but they’re certainly hoping that you do – or you will soon.

In the world of IT consulting and IT project management it is important to make good decisions and stick to them.  But you’re going to have to be flexible on every engagement – it’s just how the world of project management works.  But know the boundaries – just the right amount of flexibility and the customer will love you forever.  Go overboard or remain unwavering and you may not finish out the current gig.

Let’s look at two concepts that fall under the ‘flexibility’ category:

Be open to new processes

As an experienced IT consultant, you undoubtedly have a set way you like to do things.  You probably have templates for proposals, status reporting, invoices, and meeting notes.  You do things pretty much the same for each client to get things underway on an assignment.  But every once in a while you run across that client who has their own processes and plans for how things are going to go.  Right?  You won’t win them over by being inflexible.  That particular client won’t feel warm and fuzzy because you have all of your ducks in a row.  No, that client will be put off by your lack of flexibility and will see you as unwilling to follow the ‘boss’ and may immediately categorize you as stubborn and move on to the next potential consultant.

Rather than fight them, be open to their processes and how they want things done.  How they do things may be governed more by accounting or business objectives than your stakeholder’s desires.  As your consulting engagement progresses you can look for ways to show them how your processes or templates may enhance the engagement and drive the relationship to a more organized and successful conclusion.  But, with certain clients, enforcing your will on them at the outset of the project when they have different desires may be a very wrong thing to do.

Be able to give and take criticism

The ability to give and take criticism can actually mean that you’ve ‘arrived’ as a consultant.  Once you have the confidence level with your consulting expertise to be able to give criticism where it is due AND also take criticism constructively and use it to your advantage to better yourself, then you know you’re in a good place.  Less experienced consultants may wilt when criticized and possibly give up their consulting practice altogether.  They may also be unable to critique and criticize others constructively because they lack confidence in their own judgment.

Be able to give and take criticism

I was being paid by the CEO of a small data management organization to run several projects for him a few years ago.  I adhered to item # 1 above, but I probably shouldn’t have.  He wanted me to basically act in his role at times and lead weekly meetings of the entire staff to get status updates while also running these projects.  My first inclination was to ask each person to prepare and submit a status report to me so that I could compile a company status report and agenda for the meeting.  It’s just how I roll.  He said, “You can’t ask them to do that – just hold the meeting.”  Needless to say, attendance continued to be sparse as it was before, no one took it seriously and at the end of my consulting run, he questioned my project management abilities.  All of this even though I successfully led projects for him for several months and all of his clients were satisfied with the outcomes on their projects.

That engagement was a lesson learned for me because I could really see early on that the client was going to be a little difficult.  I bent to their wishes and I didn’t end up with a really satisfied client, but I was able to make good money while I was consulting for them.  In this example, flexibility paid off financially for me, but not in maintaining a long-term relationship with client.  In the end, I was confident with that because I was able to take the criticism in the context it was given and move on to the next client.


Whether you’re working to satisfy that less than easy-to-work-with client in order to maintain the working relationship or you understand there’s no pleasing them and you want to maintain the working relationship as long as possible to get the money out of the engagement that you had counted on, there are times when flexibility is necessary – and can pay off nicely.