Re-Thinking Engagements

In recent years, I’ve seen my share of work, workplace, and workforce changes. For example, “remote-friendly” or “remote-first” organizations are now common and increasing. Companies recognize the need to promote maternity leave and yes, paternity leave. In addition, companies question the traditional approach to vacation and experimenting with more flexible and generous vacation plans.

These changes have a common theme in that they adopt practices to promote flexibility and agility in how employees do their work…and this is great! But, companies are also taking a look at how they (the Companies) do their work.

I could keep going with more examples, but suffice it to say that how we work is changing and companies are responding. One example of how companies are responding to this change is a much broader shift to leveraging contingent workers for staff augmentation. But, is staff augmentation still the right move? Is a larger workforce comprised of internal and external workers still the solution to the strategic problems faced by many companies?

Organizations still want increase in productivity, quality, and delivery of value while decreasing risk, cost, and time-to-market. These business drivers shouldn’t surprise anyone. Yet, these objectives remain difficult to achieve.

Constant Challenges Coerce Change
Why should we re-think engagements, anyway? Simple, the current state of business demands it. Business leaders face constant challenges and must continually manage the scale of their organizations (up or down).

Many of these leaders want the ability to move their work to a team rather than being constrained to moving their teams to the work. It’s when there is “no work to move the teams to” that causes the unfortunate situation of RIFs, which no one enjoys. I’ve been in conversations with IT, Business, and HR leaders where all agree that a model, a practice, or a process (SOMETHING!) is needed to better deal with the changes and pressures on their business. These leaders are looking and will continue to look more closely at their core business and how they’re staffed to drive it.

Other companies are responding to these situations by leveraging the talent of consulting agencies. The decision to use a consultancy is still difficult for a business leader to make. These leaders still have the same concerns about using an outside firm as they have for quite some time. Concerns that include:

  • undelivered promises
  • lack of domain knowledge
  • lack of availability
  • lack of staff continuity
  • lack of responsiveness
  • increased costs due to scope change
  • missed deadlines

All of these concerns are top-of-mind for business leaders considering moving some of their most crucial work to an outside entity. It is here, at this intersection, where businesses and consulting agencies converge or collide.

Avoiding Collisions & Addressing Concerns
Together we must change how we work with one another. We must keenly focus on establishing trust blogquotethrough mutually exhibiting Service, Integrity, and Respect. These three pillars are vital to avoid collisions due to misalignment of goals. The partners need to understand that to build an effective partnership, all lines of communication must be open and must be honest. They need to establish regular, ongoing feedback to ensure their mutual goals are met. Through communication, expectations should be transparent, with both partners having a clear idea of what the other needs and expects. Both must have a shared vision of what success looks like for their partnership.

I’ve witnessed projects and entire engagements suffer because of unclear or unspoken expectations. Poor project initiation spells doom for the partners. We must be aware not only of how collisions may be avoided but, more importantly, WHO should represent the partners during engagement discussions. I’ve seen too many engagements start with only the Technical or Product (Business) leadership present. These are the same projects that tend to run off the rails at some point during the engagement. Other times, I’ve seen both sides present and as it turns out, these projects have a greater rate of success. Wouldn’t it be better to have representation from all parties involved AND benefiting from our engagements? I recommend the following representatives be included in project discussions.


Sounds great BUT things could get messy
Both internal and external talent are not only needed but are depended upon to achieve business goals. However, there is great potential for a “Clash of Talents” where the internal leadership perceives threats to themselves and/or their teams.

These perceived threats are increased when outside talent is brought in for:

  • specialized skills sets
  • turn-key teams
  • newly available technology not currently used internally

Left unchecked, leadership may see:

  • disengagement of the internal talent
  • disillusionment with the work at-hand
  • DISTRUST (worst of all)

Similarly, the consultancy should be aware of:

  • overly-confident consultants expressing arrogance
  • operating with a “gig” mentality
    • “We’re here to play our set, then we’re out!”
  • treating its consultants like commodities rather than great talent

In order to keep things from getting messy, I recommend the partners discuss, answer, and align on the following:

1. Relationship – Is trust present and mutually nurtured to drive the partnership toward to achievement of the business goals?
2. Strategy – Do the partners have a shared vision which supports the business goal?
3. Performance – Are the objectives clearly defined, organized, scheduled, communicated, and committed to within the partnership?
4. Administration – Does the partnership support business practices that treat one another as trusted partners?

What does all of this mean? Relationships Matter.
Service, Integrity, Commitment, Respect, TRUST – are usually attributed to people and personal relationships; less so with businesses and partnerships. Regardless, these are difference makers; personalizing our engagements, impacting our work, solving problems.

Stay tuned in the weeks ahead as we continue to exploring what it means to Re-Think Engagements.


Chris Risen
Sr. Consultant for SystemwarePS