How to Get What You Want from Consultants

Contracts must have clearly defined expectations to ensure success.

I was recently asked to provide a neutral outside evaluation for a dispute between a consulting firm and a campus organization that hired them. One of the first questions I always ask in these types of situations involves the scope of work for the project. My experience has been that many of the problems between service providers and campus organizations involve a lack of clarity or common understanding of the services or products to be provided. 

For example, a higher education safety director became embroiled in a lengthy battle with an emergency communications equipment provider after many of the units at her campus became inoperable due to lightning strikes. She became quite frustrated as the vendor and the local service provider pointed fingers at one another as the responsible party for the problems and neither was willing to step forward to correct the problem. 

As an outsider, one of my first observations was that all three parties to the dispute were highly exposed to civil liability should anyone die while this critical equipment remained inoperable for such an extended time period. This had unfortunately become a losing proposition for the vendor, the local service provider and the institution. For a manufacturer to have an angry client who is connected to many potential customers is not good for business. For an institution of higher learning to spend a considerable sum on equipment that does not work was also a tragedy. And the local service provider will never perform work for this institution again. Sadly, all parties ended up on the losing end of the situation.

Careful articulation of the scope of work can help reduce these types of problems. This can be especially important for situations like the one described above where multiple vendors are involved. It can be another reason to consider an independent systems integrator and/or consultant specializing in the specific area when the budget will be large for a project. 

For consulting and training projects, a clear scope of work can also help avoid problems between the service provider and the campus organization. Inclusion of sample handout materials as well as course summaries, learning objectives, clear descriptions of services to be provided, cost breakdowns and types of reports that will be provided can also help to avert misunderstandings that sometimes occur. 

The more clearly these aspects of a project are defined, the greater the odds that both the client and the service provider have a positive and productive experience. Reputable campus safety product and service providers want satisfied clients if they wish to remain in business. Campus organizations want to get what they expect from organizations they do business with.

At the end of the day, clear communications can be well worth the time and energy expended to achieve a win-win situation for service providers, campus organizations and the members of the campus community they set out to protect.

About the Author

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Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at mike@weakfish.org. Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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