Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars – Is The Meter Always Running?

I was recently speaking with one of my clients as we considered the remaining project timeline, compared to the period of performance for the current contract.

In a nutshell, when the initial contract was established it was anticipated that a Project Management resource would be needed on average 3 days per week through “at least” the end of the year.

Now that we are well into the project it is clear that it will be extended into the new year.

My client suggested something to the effect of: “We’re going to need to extend your contract as we get closer to the end of the year.

I had to remind her that just because I’m onsite does NOT mean the meter is running. And, the result is that while we anticipated a run rate of about 3 days per week (and budgeted accordingly) the necessary run rate has been a bit less. As such, we are running under budget and therefore the current contract / budget will carry us beyond the end of the year.

My client was obviously very pleased with this situation!

But how can this be (considering the engagement model of the typical contract / consulting firm)?

That is, when engaging many contract / consulting firms you will find that the meter is running every minute these resources are onsite. This, whether or not they are delivering “real” value.

Not so at Customer Centricity.

The reality is that, while the majority of time contract / consulting resources are fully delivering value, there will ALWAYS be some level of downtime at some point during a project’s lifecycle. This could result from:

  • Key team-members being unavailable (in a meeting, training or on vacation)
  • The project is at a pause awaiting phase-gate or other approval
  • Project team-members are “firing on all cylinders” and there simply isn’t an immediate need for the Project Manager to spend time chasing down updates
  • Myriad other scenarios

Instead of inventing busy work and billing our clients we use this downtime to turn off the meter and attend to other matters. All the while, maintaining an eagle’s eye on the project we are managing.

In closing, when you are discussing the level of engagement with a contract / consulting resource, ask them how they handle downtime, while they are onsite. That is, will the meter continue running, or will they hit the pause button when appropriate?

Another important point to consider when engaging contract / consulting resources.

Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars – Can You Try Before You Buy?

Engaging a contract / consulting resource is often the result of the need to fill a crucial void in an organization, until a highly qualified, permanent resource can be identified, hired and on-boarded.

As related to the above, how often have you observed the following scenario play out?

You’ve managed to engage a high performing contract / consulting resource who is doing a fantastic job making forward progress in the area of need. In parallel, you’ve searched high and low (for months) but cannot find the person you’d be comfortable bringing on full-time.

You then consider the fact that you already have someone performing very well in the role and s/he is a great fit within the organization. You decide to pursue the potential of hiring this contract / consulting resource away from their firm.

But wait, there are at least a couple of obstacles presented by typical consulting firms:

  • The contract you signed indicates that you are NOT allowed to hire their resources at all, or for a specific period of time after they complete their engagement with your firm.
  • The firm is willing to discuss your hiring of their resource but there is a fee (often a significant fee) for doing so.

It just doesn’t have to be this way.

At Customer Centricity, we (and to be fair “some” other non-typical consulting firms) strive to meet our clients at their level of need and do not present the above obstacles.

For example, there have been numerous occasions when our high performing resources have been asked, by our clients, if they’d consider coming on as a full-time employee.

Our response is simple. If the consultant is interested in becoming an employee of our client’s firm, it is their decision, not ours. If they (our client and consultant) can strike a mutually acceptable deal then we say “make it so.”

We like to keep things simple, which at the same time, makes everyone happy.

Our client is happy, in that they’ve been able to “try (a highly qualified resource to fill their need) before they buy.”

This dramatically reduces their risk in the hiring process as they have observed this person performing in their organization for months.

Our consultant is happy in that (if they accept the offer) they’ve found a rewarding opportunity that they simply could not refuse.

The result: our clients call on us time and time again because they acknowledge our main objective is to look out for their best interests and make their pressing problems go away.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what you are looking for, when engaging a consulting firm?

Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars – Need Only Part Time Help?

In this series on Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars we have covered a number of topics related to ensuring cost effectiveness while obtaining the particular skill set(s) needed for a temporary engagement.

Building on this, how often have you determined that you needed a seasoned consultant, but only on a part-time basis. That is, perhaps there is a high risk / high visibility initiative that only requires strong project management support to the tune of 2 to 3 days per week.

Where can you find such resources?

The reality: typical consulting firms will often only place resources on a full-time basis. And/or, they may be willing to place a resource on a part-time basis, but the fee structure is higher than it needs to be.

Why is this the case?

Remember, the “typical” consulting firms have overhead (often, significant overhead). They must pay for their posh offices in large cities around the country (or world), the time that their consulting resources are “on the bench”, multiple layers of management and finally, deliver value to their investors.

As a result, these firms MUST maximize billable hours for ALL their consulting resources.

The good news! There is an alternative.

At Customer Centricity, we (and to be fair, “some” other non-typical consulting firms) offer highly seasoned resources on a part-time as well as full-time basis, all for the very same, reasonable price.

How and why can we do this? Well, for a number of reasons:

  • ALL our resources are highly seasoned and able to shoulder (i.e., coordinate) part-time engagements with multiple clients at the same time.
  • Our resources are freelance in nature and therefore GREATLY enjoy the time off when only working on a part-time basis.
  • And, finally, we have virtually no (that is, ZERO) overhead to cover…
  • Bottom-line: We are under NO pressure to achieve a set number of billable hours in a given month.

The result: we are extremely flexible and support our clients at the level THEY need.

Yet another consideration, prior to engaging your next consulting resource.

Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars – Will They Fire Themselves?

In the prior post on Getting the Most From Your Consulting Dollars we began discussing the importance of ensuring that consulting / contract resources are only engaged by your organization on a temporary basis.

Especially, given the fact that when many consulting firms get in the door they simply do not want to leave (ever). And, the reality that employees are more often than not happy that these resources remain around to help out, even when they are more than capable of handling the work themselves…The result: unnecessary costs being absorbed by the business. And, third-party resources (which are ultimately temporary) developing key subject matter expertise that belongs within your organization for the longterm…

At Customer Centricity we are simply not geared that way. And, here is example number 2 demonstrating this fact.

We are often engaged on high profile projects once they have languished (missed deadline after deadline) and have run WAY over budget. This has resulted from ineffective project management by internal employees and/or external consulting firms.

The particular example to be covered is quite telling of the true nature of many (but not all) consulting organizations.

A few years ago we were asked to rescue a long overdue ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) implementation.

The company had been through several internal and external project managers before the CFO (one of our longstanding clients, at a few other firms) finally “had enough” and called on us.

Upon engaging it didn’t take long to realize that the project was being managed from a technical vs. business / process perspective.

Sure, components of “cool technology” had been pieced together to handle a key segment of the overall application. However, the entire aspect of process, necessary to properly manage the business application, was lacking.

We subsequently re-baselined the project with what we “thought” was a solid team (comprised of internal employees as well as consulting “experts” from 2 other firms).

As we commenced to execute against the revised plan it became clear that the earth was shifting beneath us. That is, the business was rapidly evolving which directly impacted the scope and requirements of the project.

This resulted in a few project “resets.”

Because of the above sequence of events, “project fatigue” set in. This was demonstrated by resignations of project team members / employees of the client’s firm. Departures of key resources with deep subject matter expertise on the business, processes and related applications.

What remained was a number of well-meaning employees and a team of consultants…

At this point we met with the CFO and CIO, and delivered a simple, yet strong, message. It went something like this…

Given the nature of the business (continuing to evolve faster than a project of this nature could ever keep pace with) and the fact that the project team is lacking the necessary depth and breadth of expertise “internally” (due to recent departures) you are better off killing this project than attempting to continue. The alternative is to pay us another $XXX,XXX over the next several months ONLY to end up in a place not much different than where we are today.

Said another way…We’ve seen this movie before. We didn’t like the ending last time. Let’s not watch it again…

Shortly thereafter, when the team gathered for our weekly status meeting, there was an ominous air about us. The CFO promptly kicked things off announcing the decision that the project was being put on hold – immediately. And, all costs resulting from external / project-related resources were to cease.

In summary, we turned off the spigot!!!

Appropriately so!
It was the classic money-pit: the never-ending project that had taken on a life of its own.

We stepped forward with the unpopular recommendation to shut it down and stop the bleeding once and for all. Of course, we also put ourselves out of a job in the process – but that was the right thing to do for the customer.

To be clear, the other firms engaged on the project were NOT pleased. They had expected to reap many more months of continued revenue from the client, even when the project was clearly destined for failure.

In closing, you want a consulting firm that is looking out for YOUR best interests. Not one whose primary goal is to keep the meter running – indefinitely. As such, when considering engaging consultants on your next project, ask them to clearly demonstrate how they’ve put their clients’ interests first (by firing themselves).

Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars – Will They Put Themselves Out of a Job?

When introducing this series of posts on Getting the Most From Your Consulting Dollars we mentioned that the primary reason to engage a consultant / contract resource (or team of resources) is to cost effectively obtain access to a particular set of skills that are only needed on a temporary basis to complete a project and/or fill a void until a highly qualified, permanent employee is hired.

The key operators here are:

  • Cost Effective
  • Particular Skill Set
  • Temporary

Since we’ve touched upon the first 2 topics above, we will now begin covering one of the most important aspects: the TEMPORARY nature of engaging consulting resources.

Senior Management – Realize, that once you’ve let “many” consulting firms in the door they do NOT want to leave. In fact, they will do everything possible to continue to extend the engagement (or engagements). And, more often than not, your employees are happy to let theses resources continue to “help out.” Even, when they could do the job themselves.

This is not something we let happen to Customer Centricity clients. In this and the next post we’ll cover just a couple of examples of how we fulfill our “temporary” nature.

Example 1…

There have been numerous occasions when we have been engaged to drive a key project to successful completion (i.e., CRM or ERP upgrade or implementation, post acquisition whole-company integration, product launch, process improvement, etc.). And, as the project is nearing its end the client asks us to take on a related / follow-on project (or projects) which we are happy to do. After this cycle has continued a couple of times we’ve often made the observation that we are becoming (or have become) a fixture in the organization. That is, a key go to / “production” resource for a certain set of tasks and activities.

It is at this point that we have a conversation with the senior manager who sponsored our engagement at the firm. And, we share the following:

  1. We are being asked to facilitate (or are now facilitating) day-to-day tasks and activities that are core to the “production operation” / business processes of your organization.
  2. Since we are only “temporary” resources a ton of subject-matter-expertise is going to one day walk out the door, when the engagement is finally concluded.
  3. You can clearly facilitate these particular tasks more cost effectively with your internal resources.
  4. Let’s engineer the handoff of these duties to your very capable employee(s).

In summary, our goal is to put ourselves out of a job.

Really!

Why do we do this?

Well, for a few reasons:

  1. Most importantly, it is in our clients’ best interests (to minimize their spend on external resources as well as develop key subject-matter-expertise that remains with the firm for the longterm).
  2. More selfishly…We freelance consultants went into this field of work so that we wouldn’t become bored doing the same ole, same ole thing over and over and over again – at the same company. In summary, we like (actually, thrive on) change!
  3. And, finally, because our network of clients (numerous people who move, over time, from company A to company B to company Z) call on us repeatedly to solve their latest problem. This results from the fact that they know we get in, perform the necessary surgical action(s) and then – get out!

In closing, if you want to ensure that you get the most from your consulting dollars it is important to define specific parameters on when to cut these resources loose. And, it is particularly beneficial when the consulting firm you engage is geared towards putting themselves out of a job (and getting their hands out of your pockets).

Do the firms you work with do that? If not, it may be time to consider alternatives…

All the best!

Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars – Avoid the Bait and Switch

In the prior 2 posts we covered the cost ineffectiveness that can be experienced when engaging “some” consulting firms.

We’ll now cover the reality often experienced when attempting to obtain that particularly desired set of skills.

The underlying goal is to piece together a team of people who are compatible with and will augment your existing workforce.

We’ve all been there…

It starts with a meeting with the business development representative from the typical consulting firm. You know, the high-caliber, polished person, like James Bond or Madame Secretary.

Someone you would be proud to represent you in front of your project stakeholders, senior management and even board of directors.

They sure have presence – and can sell!

However, after the deal is consummated and the project gets underway we too often realize that the actual resources assigned are not at the experience or skill level we expected. And, they certainly do NOT have the polish and presence that we had hoped for.

Yes, there are MANY reputable consulting firms for which the above situation doesn’t occur. The goal is to ensure you engage those firms.

So, let’s rewind…

When evaluating your consulting resource options, to consider engaging on a project, it is critically important to outline specifically what is needed – in advance!

Do you need:

  • A high-caliber project manager who will perform (on your behalf) as the lightning rod for the initiative? Maybe so, maybe not…
  • A highly analytical, detail-oriented person who can navigate through a set of complex business processes, make sense of and streamline them in a way that improves operational efficiencies (with all stakeholders bought-in and comfortable)?
  • A resource (or resources) with DEEP experience architecting, configuring and/or implementing a specific technology?
  • Help documenting and/or training to a new business process and/or application?
  • A team with local, regional, national and/or global reach?
  • A strong coach who will work side-by-side a particular manager to mentor this person through change and/or to the next level of their expanding position’s requirements?
  • Etc. – The list goes on and on…

And, it cannot go without saying, these resources must have exceptional interpersonal management and communication skills.

To ensure the above, you’ll want to request that all stakeholders involved in the selection of the consulting firm and/or success of the initiative weigh-in on the required skill-set(s).

Then, once you begin evaluating options you’ll want to review the profiles and ultimately meet the PRECISE people the consulting firm is proposing they assign to the project. You must “press the flesh”!

Now, to be fair…This does NOT mean that the consulting firm can be locked in to engaging each and every person you met during this process. As you know, it often takes weeks (if not months) for the final decision to be made, funding to be allocated and scheduling to line up for the project to actually commence.

During this timeframe it may have become necessary for the consulting firm to deploy some (even many) of the people you met, on other engagements.

So, how do you mitigate the risk? Ensure you:

  • Meet a number of people from the firm who can fill the role(s) needed on the project, to confirm the depth of their resource pool.
  • Negotiate into the contract details and expectations you have for each resource with the ability to request a change if someone doesn’t fit the bill.

In closing, with Customer Centricity (and a number of other firms we have worked with), what you see is what you get. That is, the people we put in front of our clients ARE the resources they will be working with.

There is no “bait and switch.”

Don’t let James Bond or Madame Secretary sell you a nice pair of rose-colored glasses. In order to ensure you are engaging the right resources with the desired skills and experience, you’ll want to meet them – in advance of signing the contract!

More to come!

Getting The Most From Your Consulting Dollars – Cost Effectiveness: Part 2

In the prior article we began covering the typical realities firms often experience when engaging consultants and, more importantly, how to ensure you get the most from YOUR consulting dollars.

The purpose of this article is to share another concrete example of the cost-ineffectiveness of “some” consulting firms.

At the end of the day consulting firms charge by the hour. While a particular project engagement may be fixed price, the total fees were rolled up based on the number of hours and related expenses that the consulting resources are expected to accumulate during the course of the engagement.

As mentioned in the previous post, these fees must cover the costs of the consultant (his/her total compensation package) as well as the firm’s overhead.

What is often not realized is the SIGNIFICANT overhead costs that the fees from typical consulting firms include. This excess cost is necessary to cover multiple layers of management, posh offices in large cities around the world, expensive advertising and, in many cases, providing value to their investors.

To add further insult to injury we share this example:

Members of our team (myself included) have been engaged on a subcontract basis under the banner of a few typical consulting firms. In doing so we offer a fair rate to the firm (slightly less than what we’d offer direct to a client, since we didn’t actually land the business). The typical firms then mark up our fee by 50% (or more), which is billed to their end-client!

Let’s build on this, to quantify the pain…

Assume that the above example was merely a 3-month engagement for a single contract / consultant resource – at a 50% markup. The excess cost absorbed by the end-client in this scenario is greater than $40,000! Extend the engagement to 6 months and the client would have “overpaid” by $80,000. And, at 12 months the “over spend” is more than $160,000!!!

Ouch!

Had the client only called us directly…

That’s ok, as plenty do. And, those who do engage us directly experience the benefits of our “model for success”, shared in the prior post.

Given the above insight it is clear that the value received for the cost can vary to a large degree for the very same resource (depending on how / where they are sourced).

This is not to suggest that there is never value in engaging a typical / large consulting firm. It can be appropriate to do so when a project requires a large number of specialized resources who have worked together on numerous, similar engagements and can be simultaneously deployed, globally. By all means, call them!

On the other hand, if you have a key initiative that simply requires a handful of highly skilled resources (or just one), you are likely to get more bang for your buck from a smaller firm.

Another consideration when engaging your next contract / consulting resource…