Friday, 18 May 2012

Modern Consulting vs. Classic Consulting: Part 4

No funny sub-title today; no, sir, it's right down to business!

The situation we're considering is as follows:
  1. You are in charge of a large project to implement a new business process that is to be heavily automated.
  2. You have a fixed budget and deadline.
  3. You currently do not have the expertise or staff to undertake and complete the project.
  4. You want to make as big (read: positive) an impression as possible.
We are in the middle of examining three different options in order to accomplish this project, as described in the original post in this series.

Again, this series is not meant to be exhaustive by any means; rather, it is an analysis by way of my experience in the consulting business for the past 11+ years.

Last time we looked at option 2 (i.e. what I consider to be a description of a classic consulting scenario).

Option 3 is on deck for this post, so let's get cracking!

Option 3

Find and contract a knowledgeable "one-stop shop" that has both the SMEs needed and the manpower to carry out the plan/advice from the SME(s).

Now we get to the option that combines the role of the consultant and the role of the development team.  What I mean is that instead of sourcing the consultant from one firm and the development from another (or, if you're going internal for development, the development from there), you source all those tasks from a single vendor.

One arrow means one source of responsibility.

We can see in this situation that you only need to deal with one vendor.  Once the vendor is found and contracted, no more time needs to be spent in finding the appropriate staff/contractors to implement your plan once you have it.

What's more, the vendor has a vested interest in coming up with a viable plan that not only can but must be executed, as the same vendor will be providing the development resources.  What good is the plan if the vendor's own resources can't implement it?  Dragging out projects for the sake of additional billing is a serious red flag for any consulting firm.

The vendor is also more likely to be more flexible and accommodating for scope changes (let's face it: they do happen) than having a separate vendor for each purpose (as in option 2).

Project Management and Documentation

(This is a slight aside, but one worth mentioning.)

Often times, the vendor will assign a Project Manager or account liaison to work with you to complete your project.

If there's one piece of advice I can give with respect to having a PM, it's that they are worth paying for.

It's a common occurrence for clients to want to save money by reducing the number of line items and resources as much as possible.  Project management and project documentation are often the first things to go.  Do not give in to this temptation.  A vendor worth its salt will happily walk you through the benefits of having a project manager (as well as having proper documentation, both technical and otherwise).

Vendor Confidence
One argument that is sometimes made is that the client does not want to put all his/her eggs into one basket, so to speak.

I can understand some of the concern in this ("What if the company goes under?" "Will they be transparent enough in their internal interactions?" Etc.).  However, in my professional opinion, in the vast majority of cases, the benefits far outweigh the concerns.

A good way for you to vet the vendor is to investigate any references/testimonials they have (if none are readily available via their website or other means, don't be afraid to ask the vendor for some).  Due diligence is something you should always engage in, regardless.

As a slight aside, look for an honest vendor, and by that I mean one that won't say "yes" to absolutely everything (irrespective of data) and one that won't try to say "it can't be done" whenever you suggest a certain approach.  Consulting is largely about developing a relationship with the client and sharing in the risks and success of the project.

No, not THESE Yes men.

(Again, any such vendor worth its salt will anticipate these concerns and address each one with you.  Your peace of mind should be on the top of their priority list when it comes to dealing with you.)

It's also possible that the vendor will give a bit of a break on the rate given that you're engaging them not just for consulting/planning work, but for development work, as well.  More hours usually means a greater incentive to keep you, the client, happy.

You might pay a bit more for the lead consultant, but it likely won't be as much as it would have been from a classic consulting firm, and the development resources' rates will likely be less than the lead consultant's.

Also remember that you get what you pay for: Be way of firms that offer development work for $20/hour.  I've never been one for outsourcing, so please don't tell me about sending out your work for $1/hour for a team of 10 developers (I know the likely outcome of those stories).

Who Does the Work?
In most situations, the person performing the consulting should not be the only one doing the development work (this has been known to happen in smaller firms, but outside of smaller projects, this usually doesn't work out so well).  In fact, the consultant should likely not be performing any development in order to remain objective, available, and to "see the forest for the trees".

Pros and Cons
So let's list the pros and cons for option 3:

  1. Time spent acting as an intermediary between the consultant and the dev team is minimized.  Your time (and your team's time) is important.
  2. Time is saved not needing to find/contract both a consultant and a separate development team.
  3. Greater/enhanced communication between the consultant and the dev team, thereby bypassing/reducing potential miscommunication.
  4. Increased likelihood of successful plan implementation.
  5. Greater flexibility during both planning and execution phases.
  6. Reduced chance of budget and time overrun.
  7. The chance of getting a break on rate is higher (though not guaranteed).
  8. Greater perceived value, in addition to greater actual value (i.e. you're not just getting a document that "passes the weight test".)
  1. Potential "eggs in one basket" situation.
  2. Can be challenging to find a vendor that has both the domain expertise and development expertise together in one shop if you don't know where to look.
  3. May sacrifice laser-like competency and depth in a particular field for something more akin to a carbide drill or even an entire workshop (think about it).
  4. Increased need for vendor transparency (but this is easily addressed).
Unlike the previous two options, the pros far outnumber the cons.  

This option holds many advantages that address the concerns raised with option 2.

We see here an outline of what I refer to as a modern consulting situation; in other words, the vendor/consulting firm provides a "one-stop shop" for all of your project's needs.  This greatly simplifies matters and streamlines them, especially when you have a technical need such as the one described in this thought experiment.

The value here should be obvious, and while it's not always the right tool for the job, in most technical situations, it is (even in non-technical matters, having the consultant get their hands dirty with plan implementation can be beneficial in a lot of situations).

Yes, consulting is a "noble profession" (as Dr. Weiss puts it), but I believe that the definition of what consultants need to do--especially with respect to the ever-growing need for technical expertise--needs to evolve beyond just writing a plan.

I've come across more than a few consulting firms who do nothing more than produce reams of documentation for a plan that spans hundreds of pages, only to never see the light of day again.  To me, that's not only not adding any value, it's costing a business money and can even become a liability, and that's never acceptable.

Next Time...
...we'll wrap things up with a conclusion to this whole thought experiment and bring it back full circle to where the first post started.

(From Disney's The Lion King)
It's kind of like the circle of life that way <cue Elton John music>.

See you on the next post!

No comments:

Post a Comment