Imagine there’s a critical business issue that you need fixed and unfortunately, it’s not an assignment for your internal IT team. You don’t like consultants and you haven’t used them previously. But now you need to find someone quickly who can provide the necessary expertise.
No doubt you’re hesitating because you’re unsure that using a consultant will provide you with a good outcome.
So how do you choose a tier 1 IT consultant? I’ve worked with consultants (including two of the big four) over the past 19 years as a CIO. Here are 8 ways you can make these engagements work.
1. Ensure you really understand your problem
Often you won’t fully understand the problem you are trying to solve and there are usually adjustments that need to be made before the real issues are uncovered. Set aside time with your team to collect artifacts and materials to help you get to the bottom of the problem you are trying to solve. You can then provide these materials to the consultant to read prior to starting.
2. Understand what makes consultants tick
When you are a consultant you live and die by the timesheet. All consultants – even the junior ones – are responsible for chargeable hours. It is also normal for consultants to underestimate the effort required. Often this is due to the competitive pressure to win the work from others. If you are a partner at the tier 1 consulting company, the clock always ticks much faster than you would like.
While many projects may be fixed priced jobs and theoretically this is not your concern, the fact is that burn rate of consulting hours has to be understood. In the worse case, when an engagement exceeds the estimates then there will be a write-off that is incurred. When this happens at a tier 1 consulting firm, management bonuses are affecting – creating some angst.
3. Get recommendations
It is a natural approach to look for recommendations from others that have completed similar work. This is both good and bad. Yes, this provides you assurance that they have recent experience in completing this assignment, but you may not want to be the next iterative ‘cookie cutter’ client.
Usually these recommendations received from peers or colleagues will be for a specific person/s. The likelihood of these resources being available for your immediate start is not always certain.
Along this process you will also gain insights into who not to use. This won’t be a question that you ask – others will volunteer to name names.
4. Do speed dating
Ask your executive assistant to arrange briefing meetings. There is homework required that you have to send out in advance. You will have a more productive meeting if you are better prepared.
The partner has to bring the right colleagues with him or her in order to win this engagement. Again, there is often ambiguity on their behalf of what exactly you are looking for.
These briefing meetings are effectively ‘speed dating’ sessions that should involve representative from procurement as an observer. Yes, this can slow down the logistics but you will want to accelerate later and being involved early can really make a huge difference.
Consider having a briefing session for a few consultants at the same time and venue. This can make everyone a little uncomfortable but it does send the message that they have to be competitive.
5. Make sure your ‘scope’ is clear
Your project scope should be described in a simple and short sentence. Often words are inadequate to explain what you mean and then you’re forced to images, context diagrams, root cause analysis, process flows and data models.
During ‘pitch events’ that follow the briefing sessions you will also want to ensure that you are satisfied that the consultant understands your scope and priority of these items.
Of course you have to always check that the engagement plan matches the presented scope. Details are critical as it is not uncommon for ‘scope slip’ to occur on paper and transposition from the proposal.
6. Be happy with the execution team
Remember that you are engaging both the brand and the team. The execution team should be the same as the proposal team. Watch for the ‘bait and switch’, don’t forget what makes consultants tick. It’s likely that the people you engage are also finishing off at least one other project.
Make sure that there is full transparency of the commitment of these key resources for the critical stages of your project. Don’t be afraid to call out team members who are not fitting in with your company and need to be replaced.
Conversely, you will invariably discover that there are one or two of these consultants who establish a great rapport and trust. In this instance you will naturally start to want them to be part of future assignments.
7. Hold the partner accountable for oversight
The partner needs to be accountable and they can’t be unless they have an active role in overseeing the progress. Insist that the partner schedules regular calls and formal meetings with yourself and the project team.
I’ve seen some terrible partners who disappear once the job is won and are never again to be seen. Don’t let this happen, otherwise you assume the risk yourself. The best partner is that one that is actually involved and working closely with the team.
Whether they actually charge for all these hours is not your problem, you just want to ensure that appropriate oversight is maintained throughout the engagement.
8. Hold your own team accountable for success
It’s easy to forget that your own team also needs to be accountable. Without this commitment there is real danger that all this work with the consultant is their work and not owned by the team.
There will always be some tension between the internal team and the external consultant. Although this is a natural condition it doesn’t change the need to drive this shared accountability and responsibility model.
Ok, now you are ready to go out and select that ‘gun’ IT consultant to drive your change agenda.