Empirical studies on reasons for consulting failure are sparse. However, as per the few studies conducted on this topic, lack of internal communication has been found out to be one of the main reasons for failure of consulting projects. Several reasons for failure of consulting engagements have been identified and they all can be broadly categorized into 4 groups:

  • Personal characteristics
  • Technical shortcomings
  • Problematic client–consultant relationships
  • Socio-political aspects of the client organization

Ineffective project management has also been stated as a culprit. A few more specific reasons for failure are as follows:

  • Personal characteristics of the consultant and of the client such as lack of skills or knowledge
  • Technical shortcomings, e.g. ineffective project management
  • Socio-political aspects of the client organization such as hidden agendas, resistance to change etc.
  • Insufficient executive commitment
  • Insufficient involvement of Information System Departments
  • Information is withheld from consultants
  • Reverting to old behavioral patterns despite implanting a great business design
  • Excess fear and less creativity
  • Working in silos
  • Confusing approach: consultative or sales & delivery? Adhering to a consultative approach gives room for process of discovery and proposing solutions
  • Overconfidence, not enough wisdom. More often than not, consultants suffer from this scenario which leads to failure in looking at a problem with a different mindset

As per a survey conducted by IBM in 2008, 1500 change management executives were surveyed and the success/failure rate of “change” projects was assessed. Following were the key findings:

  • Projects that meet schedule, budget and quality goals – 40%
  • Best organizations are ten times more successful than the worst ones
  • Biggest barriers to success listed as factors related to human resources
    • Changing mindsets and attitudes – 58%
    • Corporate culture – 49%
    •  Lack of senior management support – 32%.
    • “Underestimation of complexity” was listed as a factor in 35% of projects

On an average, 37% of business process change projects fail to deliver benefits which can also be attributed to the data that 35% of organizations abandon a major project in the last 3 years before its completion. This also brings our focus to the point that certain projects are difficult to sustain due to various reasons, lack of resources, change in human resources, financial aspects etc.

In UK, since 2000, unfinished or unsuccessful projects have incurred the government $4billion in wasted efforts!

To make any consulting engagement successful, both client and consultants have to rethink their approaches. Clients should not overestimate the possibilities offered by consultants while engaging them. They should also be keenly aware of their own responsibilities.

On the other hand, consultants also have to take their limitations into account. Consultants need a new understanding of their approach, i.e. they have to reflect upon their boundaries and make them explicit, and accept that possibilities for intended interventions are most limited.

Pooling practical experiences from past consulting projects is critical. But then the question arises, where does a consultant begin?