Eight to Late

Sensemaking and Analytics for Organizations

Getting the most from your consulting dollar

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Consultants are engaged for a variety of reasons ranging from strategic (e,g. help develop corporate IT strategy) to tactical (e.g. augment internal resources). They are so ubiquitous that at any given time  an organisation is likely to  have a bunch of consultants floating around in one department or another. Given the often outrageous rates billed by high-end consultants, it is important that organisations get maximum bang for their consulting buck.  When I worked as a consultant I often came across situations where my services could have been better utilised. On the other hand,  as a corporate employee, I’ve seen consultants hanging around doing very little. So I’m convinced that many organisations often underuse or misuse the consulting time they’ve paid top dollar for. This doesn’t have to be so.  It’s easy to ensure that you get the best value from the consultants you engage. Here’s how:

  • Know why you’re hiring them: One would think this should be obvious, but it often isn’t. Ask yourself why you’re engaging consultants and what (specifically) you want from them. The best way to be specific is to list the deliverables you expect from them. This gives you a checklist you can tick off as they progress through the engagement.
  • Be ready for them when they come in: Over the last several years I’ve been surprised at the number of consultants I’ve seen hanging around the coffee machine or twiddling their thumbs (whilst racking up huge charges) , all because  the client wasn’t prepared properly for them. This is like keeping a taxi waiting – the meter’s ticking but you’re no closer to your destination – a waste any way you look at it.  Be prepared for your consultants: ask them what they’ll need before they come in, and be ready with it. You want them working on productive stuff as soon as they arrive.
  • Listen to what they have to say: You’ve hired your consultants for a reason – presumably because they have something useful to offer you (knowledge, skills or whatever). It therefore behooves you to listen to them when they offer opinions (which may well be contrary to yours).
  • …but ask for explanations: Listen, but don’t be uncritical – you want the what, but you also need the why. Ask for explanations if you aren’t convinced. Ideally you want hire them only once for a particular job. The next time around you should know how to do it yourself.
  • Ensure knowledge transfer: This is really implied in the previous point. However, it is so important that I thought it worth mentioning again. You want to make sure that they’ve transferred all relevant skills to internal staff.
  • Document, document, document: This is a frequently overlooked aspect of most consulting engagements. Sure, consultants leave you with a final report. But that report, in my experience, is often less than useful. What you want are working, nuts-and-bolts documents like standard operating procedures. Be sure that your consultant leaves you with useful documentation. Have your people check the documentation before the consultant takes off with your cash.

Few present-day organisations can afford to maintain all the skills they need in-house, so most have to hire consultants every now and then. Your organisation is probably no exception. The aforementioned suggestions may help maximise the return  from your consulting dollar.

Written by K

April 2, 2008 at 5:22 pm

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