The client?consultancy relationship and the consulting process itself are the keys when both budget and time are tight, writes Martyn Best.
In early 2007, our consultancy won a commission from Shakespeare’s Globe to develop a strategy for the transformation of The Globe’s whole visitor experience. The first priority was a revamp of its visitor exhibition. Once the proposal for the reconfiguration had been signed off, the refit had to be completed in just ten weeks, on a tight budget and, moreover, keeping areas of the exhibition open to visitors with the work in progress.
The Globe and its key stakeholders believe that the final result is a more engaging and informative exhibition, which makes the accompanying theatre tour a more fulfilling experience. The keys to the effectiveness of the project and of our continuing collaboration have been the client–consultancy relationship and the consulting process itself. We have brought out a few common features to serve as general principles for getting the best out of consultancies.
The consultancy you appoint should understand your organisation’s corporate culture, enabling it to deal sensitively with the concerns of your staff and stakeholders. The consultants should bring your key staff onside, encouraging a positive organisational momentum that facilitates the speedy, successful implementation of the project. This can also liberate many constructive and creative suggestions from staff – and nothing is a bigger morale-booster for them than to see their own ideas embraced. Whilst it is the consultancy’s responsibility to recommend and implement the right solutions, it should also acknowledge and use good ideas from the client-side.
You should ensure consistency and clarity of objectives. Cultural and artistic institutions are complicated organisations, and new projects or ventures will have a range of objectives that can be hard to reconcile – commercial objectives, audience targets, educational and information objectives, creative and curatorial objectives, and so on. From the outset, client and consultancy must identify the most pivotal and productive role for the consultancy by identifying those objectives that its advice and assistance can best fulfil.
As the client, you should remain open-minded about how to achieve your objectives in creative and implementational terms, allowing the consultancy ‘its head’. It can be illuminating to ask your consultancy to re-examine the project’s aims. Our analysis of the Globe’s broader cultural and educational objectives revealed that the whole thematic focus of the exhibition needed recasting – away from the story of the modern Globe towards an in-depth exploration of the original Globe’s crucial role both in its own time and ever since.
Your project and progress management process should suit your, rather than their, way of working. Good rules to follow are:
• The preparation of concise initial ‘scoping’ summaries before the implementation of major plans
• Ensuring a single point of reporting and sign-off for the consultancy
• Ensuring key stages of work are delivered to you in good time for appraisal and amendment, as necessary, before you have to present these to your own board or trustees
• ‘Incremental’ sign-off and approval at every key stage; and
• Regular testing of all major work stages against the project’s overall objectives.
The most important principle is also the simplest: ensuring good, frank communication between you, your internal team and your consultants, ensuring that problems and issues are dealt with early and efficiently. Good communication will safeguard the integrity of the project’s overall vision, and ensure its delivery with the maximum impact, minimum time and minimum cost.
Martyn Best is CEO of Cultural Innovations, which specialises in the development and delivery of cultural facilities, programmes and projects.
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