Consultants: How to Choose, Use, and Not Abuse Them
Since my first consulting project over thirty years ago, I have learned a lot about how to successfully manage consulting projects and the client/consultant relationship.
Here are some ideas that may help you with your consultants (and your lawyers, accountants and other professionals):
- Before you introduce consultants to the process, be sure you need what you want and want what you need. Beware of consultants that agree to do whatever you want, whether you need it or not.
- Look internally to confirm the three "C's" of consulting project readiness: Capacity in budget, time and resources; Commitment of management and staff affected by the process; and Capability to support the project and implement the conclusions.
- One more "C" – Compatibility. Select your consultants from an organisation that is compatible with yours - are you a corporate multinational or a local entrepreneurial business?
- Recognize whether your consulting needs are strategic: requiring outside expertise to inspire and facilitate your business planning process, or operational: bringing knowledge, skills and experience that are not available internally.
- Meet the operating consultant. It may not be the same charming, talented person that sold you the work. And at those fee rates you don't want to train a recent MBA, who started last week and studied your industry yesterday.
- Test Drive: Check whether the consultant arrives with questions, not answers; will operate as neither boss nor employee; and will win the hearts and minds of your staff. Successful consultants will listen, understand, empathize, analyze, strategize and persuade better than normal people.
- Remember you are hiring a consultant to challenge and push you. You are not renting a friend to tell you how smart you are.
- Can you confidently expect a solution that will be yours not theirs?
- Ask for references. Call them.
- Ask who is not on the reference list and why not. Learn what they think causes a project to be unsuccessful. And ask which list they expect you to be on when this is over.
- Ask for fee rates and a work plan with estimated hours. Then agree on a fixed fee for agreed deliverables with dates, documents and milestones.
- Don't let their progress reports interfere with your progress. Get what you need, not what they need for internal "CYA" requirements.
- Check who else is billing time to your project. Sometimes there is a very expensive partner back at the office who needs to keep his billing rate up. Your budget can be quickly consumed while he "supervises" from a distance.
- Avoid surprises. Ask about additional expenses: travel, telephone and printing. Terms of payment?
- Do they have a satisfaction guarantee?
- Get the agreement in writing, read it before signing it.
- Watch for signs of trouble: such as, selling more work before the work is done; long delays between on-site visits; too much time spent "back at the office" and billed to you.
- And finally, remember consultants are people too. They want to boast about good work and satisfied clients. You can help them help you. Don't be difficult.
With all due respect and best regards to my favourite clients and consulting associates.
Be better. Do better.
Your Uncle Ralph, Del Chatterson