Cost pressures on large IT-enabled business transformations can be intense.\u00a0 It is not surprising that program managers often become blinded to the risks they take in opting for lower cost resources in an effort to satisfy the C-suite. The effects of poor quality talent are undeniable \u2014 we have all seen it.\n\nCode peppered with errors leads to an extended time for testing and remediation\nBusiness process designs that satisfy 80 percent of the transactions leave 20 percent in limbo\nBusinesses crash and burn as a result of a poorly planned go-live\n\nLarge enterprise business process or IT initiatives can last three to five years, some with a considerable turnover on project teams. That means talent management should be an active, ongoing pursuit \u2014 not a \u201conce-a-year\u201d discussion or occasional agenda item.\nWhile not intuitively obvious, top talent from top-tier firms and low costs are not mutually exclusive.\u00a0 In my experience, project leaders who apply a handful of proven talent management strategies have the opportunity to reduce average per-hour consulting costs by 10 to 15 percent annually. More importantly, they will increase their project\u2019s likelihood of success and the ability to generate tangible value for the business.\nHere are three talent management strategies that, when implemented aggressively and consistently, drive project success:\n1. Sweet spot targeting: Most of the big consulting companies have what I call \u201ctalent sweet spots,\u201d areas where their clients see higher ROI. To find your vendor\u2019s sweet spots, look for and focus on the following types:\n\nAthletes \u2013 Athletes are versatile individuals with multiple functional disciplines and skill sets on their validated r\u00e9sum\u00e9s.\u00a0 Assuming their skills match your project needs, athletes can help you avoid bringing in two or more additional consultants.\nRecently promoted talent \u2013 While this might seem counterintuitive, recently promoted talent is valuable because it has been recently endorsed by your vendor\u2019s leadership and it guarantees you an extended stay at the current rate. In other words, you avoid sudden jumps in your rate because someone assigned to your project is due for a promotion.\n\u201cNewbies\u201d \u2013 Typically, you can negotiate 50% rate discounts on fresh hires straight from college. In some cases, they may be free. Though newbies have no real experience, they are often eager to make a positive impression and, if they don\u2019t work out, your partner will likely comp them for you.\nManagers and Senior Consultants who have spent their careers with one firm \u2013 In my experience, these levels are where real value sits with big systems integrators and consultants. These folks have been there long enough to build corporate relationships that can be leveraged but have not yet jumped ship or checked out to have a life. The corollary to this rule is to stay away from partners and the firm\u2019s more experienced new hires. Making partner is a game of attrition and, at many firms, partners are not necessarily the most skilled or knowledgeable people. New hires into the management or senior consulting ranks don\u2019t have the internal network and typically you can get this same level of experience by utilizing independent consulting firms.\n\n2. Aggressive rotation:\u00a0It is easy to get caught in the trap of keeping the same people on the project over the whole course of the project. Some corporate IT leaders even seem to prefer the continuity, based on the argument that they don\u2019t want to lose the investment they have made in educating project resources and that it also takes too long to bring new people up to speed. The fact of the matter is that you are short-changing your company by not changing talent. Rotating 20 to 30 percent of your talent on a scheduled basis allows you to:\n\nGet rid of bottom performers \u2013 You should evaluate external consulting talent in the same manner as internal talent (though perhaps not as formally). With consultants, you have the opportunity to get rid of the bottom 15 percent at almost any time you like.\nBring in fresh ideas in a particular subject area \u2013 Over the course of 12 to 18 months, you likely have tapped into 80 percent of the experiences that an individual consultant has to offer. By rotating, you open up the opportunity to bring in fresh ideas to solve problems.\nLook for cost-reduction opportunities, especially in senior talent \u2013 I believe most of the value from the highest-priced talent comes during a relatively short period of time after they\u2019ve engaged. That\u2019s why you should periodically replace a portion of your most experienced consultants with lower-cost resources. The same technique should be applied to those individuals your consultants may be targeting for promotion.\n\n3. Structural cost reduction planning: Over time, IT leaders should plan for step changes in consulting rate levels with the goal of reducing overall project costs. To get there, a good deal of planning and forethought is necessary. I recommend collaborating directly and openly with your consulting partner to achieve year-over-year cost reductions in talent by:\n\nKeeping documentation up to date\nTaking more work off-shore through well-established delivery processes\nContinuously shifting responsibility from the consultant to your company or another firm\nUsing internal accelerators to reduce the talent level necessary to complete work\nFinding resources closer to the key project sites and locations to reduce travel and living expenses.\n\nThe bottom line is that talent management is underrated as a means to reduce project costs and generate more value. Using these techniques, you can achieve annual savings of 10 to 15 percent. Yes, it takes work \u2013 proper planning, attention to detail and willingness to engage with your vendors and consultants regularly and openly \u2013 but the potential pay-off is enormous. As I like to say, costs count, but talent wins.