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Tips for Association Professionals Working with Consultants
By Meghan Durbin | July 30, 2020
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A few years ago, the association I was working at decided to overhaul and upgrade the organization website. Among many other resources, this project involved the need for staff to coordinate work with an outside vendor in order to re-do the site.

Although the website updates were eventually completed, projects rarely go according to plan. Looking back, there are definitely steps we could have carried out differently to better help the consultant understand both our project objectives and expectations. Most of my learning from this specific project centered around communication and understanding business processes.

Within this specific project, these were some of the critical business processes we needed to understand:

  • What and How different departments communicated with members. It was necessary for our team to understand the channels of communication and the content that was being delivered.
  • What and How data processes were used for our Association Management System (AMS). Our team needed to know how data was input into the system, as well as the type of data being collected.

Understanding these pieces played an important role in the project, because it mapped the trajectory of the project and the key stakeholders that needed to be involved. Looking back, establishing this at the onset of the project would have paid dividends to all involved and the project timeline itself.

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Note: Recent Reports from the Project Management Institute (PMI) show that about 14% of IT related projects fail outright, and 30% of all projects still fail to meet their goals. On top of that, almost half of all projects still end up being completed late.1

What steps is your association or organization taking to ensure project completion on time?

Gaining this insight was critical to our success, because this particular project involved every department within the organization. Upgrading an entire website was no easy task, so early and consistent communication was essential throughout the entire project.

While this particular website upgrade was just one example, the lessons I took from the overall project have helped me throughout my career. Once a new project is underway, here are a few tried and true methods to help both the consultant(s) and your association staff keep the project on track and on budget:

Establish & Update Standard Operating Procedures

Make sure that your Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are in place and up to date. When a person leaves a position within an organization, it creates a knowledge gap. If the person leaving has the best understanding of why things are done the way they are in your association’s AMS, all of that knowledge leaves with the employee unless you have appropriately documented the processes used within your organization. SOPs ensure you are not one person deep on important business knowledge and processes.

SOPs not only help internal staff, but they also help consultants understand how and why an organization operates a certain way. SOPs can be looked at as an organization’s user manual.

Additionally, when your SOPS include why and how processes are handled a certain way, your consultant will better understand your organization and be able to provide the best recommendation for how to move forward. At fusionSpan, we establish SOPs for both internal and external work, and we constantly work to update these procedures with the adoption of new tools or processes.

Set Clear Expectations From The Beginning

Keeping the lines of communication open between the association staff and the consulting team from the very being is key to a well run project. It’s important that all involved understand each other’s roles and responsibilities.

When I started working on IT related projects, I learned there are some helpful things to adopt when communicating with a consultant:

  • Provide clear and concise steps for how you came across the issue.
  • Include screenshots that are clearly labeled – include a clear description of what the screenshot is showing (or not showing).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but also be prepared to provide information on your end.
    • For example: If you are working with a consultant to upgrade your AMS, then providing a login will help expedite the process.
  • Help your consultant better understand your association and the community (members) that you represent. This can help the consultant better understand the associations goals and help them to understand how the project fits into the organization long-term.

Communicating who will be the point of contact and SOPs for various business functions across the organization is a key step while undertaking a new project. Establishing clear procedures, and being proactive instead of reactive, will help ensure project completion and success.

Be Responsive & Flexible!

While we are all working to ensure that the project is completed in accordance with the timeline, roadblocks will almost always arise. Be sure that you have a team and procedure in place to adjust scope or requirements for the project, and communicate early and often over any changes within the project.

Most of us are still working remotely, and it might be worth adopting some temporary procedures and measures full-time. Ensure that your team is well-equipped and ready to address project adjustments quickly while continuing to work from home (for more insight on setting your team up for success while working remotely, check out some of our previous blogs).

Remember that when working with consultants, communication plays a key role not only the initial outreach, but throughout the entire project scope. The main takeaway is to remember that all involved are working together to bring the project to completion in a timely manner with the best end result possible.


“Success Rates Rise.” PMI’s Pulse of the Profession, www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/learning/thought-leadership/pulse/pulse-of-the-profession-2017.pdf?sc_lang_temp=en. Accessed 2020.

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Meghan Durbin

Meghan Durbin

Meghan joined fusionSpan in August 2019. Meghan works with multiple non-profits to implement customer facing systems. Meghan has five years of experience working in associations. Meghan graduated from Radford University, with a B.S. in Journalism, and also holds a Paralegal Certification from George Mason University.

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