The critical success factors in the client‐consulting relationship

Steven H. Appelbaum (John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada)
Anthony J. Steed (Bell Canada, Montreal, Canada)

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Publication date: 1 January 2005



The primary intent of this study is to examine recent projects involving external management consultants at a North American telecommunications firm, from the employees’ point of view, to measure the extent to which the aforementioned “critical success factors” were perceived as being evident. A secondary purpose was to examine which, if any, of these factors differ between more or less successful consulting projects with a view to building a model to predict employees’ perceptions of the level of the projects’ success. A third objective was to gather employee opinions on the use of management consultancy and other factors that might contribute to the success of consulting projects.


A total of 102 employees responded to a questionnaire consisting of 59 questions. A model including six independent variables was able to predict overall rating of project success, with an adjusted R2=0.68, F=27.81 (p<0.0001). The significant variables, in order of importance, were: the solution took into account one's internal state of readiness; the project included prototyping new solutions; the project deliverables were clear; the consultant partnered with the project team throughout; the consultant was professional; and the consultant understood the sense of urgency.


Substantial differences were seen on most measures between projects judged “successful” and projects judged “not successful”. Nevertheless, it is encouraging that many of the success factors suggested in the literature, and proposed under “an ideal client‐consultant engagement”, were judged as being present in management consulting projects at the telecommunications firm, to one degree or another. General opinions of management consultants were mixed and somewhat negative. Employees at the telecommunications organization do not agree with the traditional benefits of management consultants promoted by the industry.


The results of this study support the anecdotal and theoretical models, in particular those emphasizing the importance of process issues, the client‐consulting relationship and their impact on project outcome.



Appelbaum, S. and Steed, A. (2005), "The critical success factors in the client‐consulting relationship", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 68-93.

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Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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