Editor’s note: George Harrison is a senior management consultant with Project Managers, Inc.The purpose of a consulting firm is to provide your business with valuable strategies for success and with services to implement those strategies. That is why you hire them. Why, then, do certain projects fail despite seemingly the best efforts?

In order to be a more informed purchaser of consulting services, you and your company need to be aware of some of the common issues that many management consultants may not tell you or — incredible as it may seem — simply may not know but which are absolutely critical to the success of your project. Project management is as much about recognizing and reacting to failure as it is about building off of success.

It is not uncommon in the project world to have a consultant tell you, “We missed one or more of our milestones, but the project is still ‘green’.” Translation: “Several of our goals critical to the success of the project have not been met, but my advice is to go ahead with the project.” I liken this to a wall built with several dozen bricks missing; sooner or later it’s going to come crashing down.

Generally speaking, you and your business will not be able to make up missed milestones without one of two things: a reduction in scope and quality to your project or a major increase in project costs, whether it is to add more resources or to lengthen the duration of the project’s schedule. A consultant may push you to make the decision to do one or both of these things. What you need to know about this scenario is that missing targets often means more revenue for the consultants, but a less compelling business case for you. In fact, a majority of business initiatives fail because there is not enough attention focused on achieving project milestones.

Let us accept for a moment that green means go. What decision would you make as a driver if the traffic light was green but all of the lights on your dashboard were flashing red? A consultant in your back seat may yell at you to go, the light is green, everybody behind you is honking, but a smart driver and car owner puts on his hazards and pulls over to the side of the road to assess the best way to get those red lights to stop flashing.

True project management professionals attempt to identify and understand all of the project’s cross-functional impacts, rather than only focusing on the final goal.

Missed milestones snowball. Staying “green” and ignoring missed targets pile on top of one another and affect other facets of the company which, while not necessarily associated with the project, are dependent in some way upon its success. Not meeting project goals and deadlines can result in cost overruns and lost revenue opportunities, which then require additional capital to overcome. In addition, your credibility and your capability as a project sponsor may be brought into serious question.

It is important to remember that when you and your business hire a consulting firm, you are hiring a business as well. Quite often — in fact, it is becoming more and more commonplace — consulting firms are publicly traded or are in the process of becoming so. This means that they are subject to the same scrutiny of their quarterly earnings and performance by analysts as any other company, including your own. This set of circumstances may create a rather problematic conflict of interest as the pressure upon consultants to remain billable may come into direct conflict with your need to complete the initiative on time.

Don’t let consulting firms push you past important milestones because of their fear of loss of revenue. Make sure that, at the outset of any project, your consulting firm presents you with an exit strategy, a way to complete the initiative on time while meeting all project milestones in a timely fashion. Have them present you with a strategy for transferring the new processes, technology and responsibility over to your company’s staff. In this way you can insure against cost overruns and ensure the success of your project.

George Harrison, PMP, is a Senior Management Consultant with over 18 years of practical experience including Process Improvement, Change Management and Project Management. George is a Six Sigma Black Belt and HelixPLAN facilitator. Project Managers, Inc., founded in 1998, serves executives that need to ensure the successful implementation of mission-critical, business transformational initiatives. In addition to sound program/project management practices, the firm specializes in mitigating the top failure risks, cross-functional and relational, required to ensure client success.