15 February 2023

A "Ways of Working" Conversation: laying the foundations for project success


Once a project is sold, it can be super-tempting to focus all of your attention on getting to results as quickly as possible. But before you kick off, it’s important to prepare the ground for a solid relationship with your client, by having a Ways of Working (WOW) conversation.

Results (and mistakes) will land more successfully in the context of a deep, trust-based relationship, so starting off by over indexing on the person behind the consultancy project is a great investment of your time.


What is a Ways of Working conversation? 

A relaxed, informal conversation where you can begin to get to know your key client as a real human being, gain a more nuanced sense of their operating context, and fine-tune your alignment on project success. 

It’s where you’ll get to understand what project success really means to your client, on a personal level. It’s where you can start to get a real sense of the political and stakeholder landscape, and all of the potential obstacles, tough personalities and conflicting agendas that don’t get mentioned during the sales process. It’s where you can align on communication and style preferences; and it’s where you’ll uncover the little bugbears that don’t generally get mentioned until much later on - when they have become irritants.

Why is a WOW conversation important?

At best, a sales process will give you a pencil sketch of your client and their context. A good WOW conversation will help you to colour it in.

You’ll efficiently gather a large amount of vital data, which will inform the way you structure, prioritise and communicate going forwards. You’ll start to build a common language with your client, meaning you’re less likely to misunderstand / misread each other as the project unfolds; and in sharing your own preferences, experience and recommendations, you’ll reassure them that they are in safe hands, and that you're 100% on their team. 

As well as being in a better position to land results successfully and overcome challenges, the strong relationship you’ll start to build in your WOW conversation means there’s a greater chance that you will both actively enjoy the project; which in turn leaves you in a better position to win repeat business down the line.

WOW: Conversation Framework

An informal context is best - ideally in person, over a coffee or a walk. A good WOW conversation should feel the polar opposite of transactional. While you may want to make a few notes, PowerPoint is a definite no! 

Best practice is to cover 5 key areas: 


1. What the project means to your client personally

Start by recapping your understanding of the impact the project will have on the business - is this right, is there anything else / what am I missing?

This is a great bridge to discussing what success looks like and what it means for your client on a personal level - to understanding the depth and angle of their emotional investment.

Maybe there’s a promotion riding on this project. Maybe your client is seeing it as a proof-of-concept: success means the board will be minded to fund a much larger piece of work.  Maybe it's a project that’s close to your client’s heart - one they’ve been fighting to get the green light on for years. Or maybe your client actually sees it as a box-ticking exercise.  

2. The political landscape

Start broad, get the lie of the land: What’s the culture like? What do you enjoy most about working here? What’s the company really great at? Any bear traps lying around that I should be aware of!? 

From here you can move on to more specific questions: If you were me, and you were about to start this project, what would you do to secure buy-in across the team? Which stakeholders are likely to come on board easily? Is there anyone who won’t be happy - what’s your advice in terms of managing them?  

Hopefully everything is hunky dory and the road ahead looks obstacle-free. But in the event that the new CFO is your client’s nemesis, it's better to know upfront!

3. Communication preferences

Again, start with the concrete basics here: What’s the best way for me to communicate with you? Slack / email / WhatsApp / Signal…? What’s your ideal scenario in terms of contact - ad-hoc, daily check-ins, structured weekly update? Are there times when you’re definitely not around / times that I should avoid? 

Then move out into more nuanced questions to get a deeper sense of your client’s actual style - you can do this by sharing your own preferences / stress testing with specific scenarios:

I’m a very direct communicator and I believe in nipping things in the bud - if there’s an issue I’ll get straight on the phone…what about you? 

I’m very happy to take direct feedback / adapt - so feel free to be extremely frank! I should also flag that I get a lot of energy from a little bit of praise, so if you think something’s going well, do let me know!! 

How about you - what gets you energised, how do you really love to work? 

4. The little stuff

Save the (seemingly) little stuff at the end of the conversation. But make sure you get to it - because it’s usually underlain by strong emotions and will add a whole extra layer to your ability to understand your client. 

What are your bugbears / pet hates - anything people have done on previous projects that have got on your nerves - just so I know what to avoid?! 

Your client might, slightly shamefacedly, reveal that they hate Googledocs because they can’t get their head around using them. So when someone sends them a Googledoc, it drives them mad - because it makes them feel stupid. 

5. Life beyond work

It's good to wrap up by finding out a bit more about the life your client leads outside of work - their hobbies, interests, family situation... what’s going on at the weekend? Take an interest. And if there's a chance for you to engage, do - maybe you read something you think your client might enjoy: ping them a link. Small gestures matter. 


Choix connects the buy and sell sides of consulting, providing fair and transparent choice for all. If you want to talk to us about a project, or you’re looking to connect with our network of high quality freelance consultants and experts, please email hello@mychoix.com


At best, a sales process will give you a pencil sketch of your client and their context. A good WOW conversation will help you to colour it in.