by Suanne McGrath Kelly @PlanInMotion
Results! Not Reports! Hire the Right Consultant
As I write this title, I am envisioning a mob of angry SME business owners waving placards and chanting: “Results, Not Reports! Results, Not Reports!”.
Consulting assignments are often negatively portrayed as bottomless pits which ooze complexity, exceed budget and scope, and do not produce immediate or obvious results. I can understand the trepidation, however, in most cases SME’s just do not have the time or expertise in house to single-handedly tackle projects such as software selection and implementation. An ERP system is a long term investment; you cannot afford any missteps when it comes to choosing software to support a core business function. So how do you ensure you hire the right consultant and effectively manage the consulting engagement throughout?
Choose a professional with appropriate credentials and a deep understanding of the subject matter, who also has hands on experience dealing with complex issues and multiple stakeholders.
Software vendor’s are not necessarily invested in understanding your unique business process if their compensation is not tied to the eventual project outcome. Further, simply browsing product features and ticking off boxes on an RFP checklist will most certainly not get you the right solution. An experienced consultant with a proven methodology is better equipped to organize external vendor proposals and work with internal managers to create an effective business case. And, he or she is also used to managing the human elements of the process – trust, change and expectations.
Engage the consultant to solve a specific problem for a clearly defined period of time, and when the contract has come to an end, measure provided results against established goals.
Results are very difficult to measure if your engagement goals are not clearly defined. The SMART method of goal setting applies and is discussed in detail in the post “It’s All About ME: Managing Expectations”. Your consulting engagement letter must identify the specific problem to be solved and what tasks shall be undertaken to accomplish it. When results are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound, you will know if your consultant has achieved the desired outcome.
Here are 6 ways to choose the right consultant for your project:
(1) Credentials: Many consultants are backed by very reputable associations, eg. CPA, CMA, CMC, and therefore must abide by their respective charters. They have proven academic and professional profiles, hold liability insurance and are accountable to their governing bodies for their representation to the public. Do not settle for less.
(2) Experience: It is very important to find a consultant with hands-on subject matter expertise. A consultant who has undertaken many diverse projects will have learned lessons first hand and has established methodologies; they anticipate risk and expect to be held accountable for the outcome. Don’t be afraid to ask for references, profiles or sample engagements.
(3) Active Listening: Ensure the consultant is asking questions and really listening to your unique business issues. They must fully asses the situation and use their broad-based experience and methodologies to systematically influence action and provide relevant recommendations. It is a consultant’s role to facilitate the process toward the end result, not simply check items off a spreadsheet.
(4) Established Boundaries: The consultant’s proposal must be very specific; clearly communicating inclusions and exclusions, roles, responsibilities and timelines. Understand that the engagement must allow for active stakeholder involvement and promote a culture of mutual trust. The consultant is there to lend you their knowledge and experiences and make recommendations, but ultimately you own the project and make the final decision. Do not accept vague. Get it in writing.
(5) Be Reasonable: High price does not always guarantee high value, and low price does not always equate to cost savings. You must assess total value (justified fee structure, competitive terms, clear deliverables and milestones, realistic budget and timeline, etc.) and address risk factors (technical complexity, change management, scheduling challenges, etc). Beware of those trying to be everything to everyone; a good consultant specializes in the core subject matter and asks for help where required.
(6) It ‘Feels Right’: At the end of the day you have to be comfortable with the consultant’s values, ethics, confidentiality and transparency. The right consultant is respectful of your unique situation, empathetic towards stakeholders, and passionate about achieving a successful outcome. Trust your gut.
Technology is ever-changing, the market is inundated with choice, and software systems are much more sophisticated. As a result, software selection and deployment has become a complex process involving all aspects of your business. The right solution provides an opportunity to enhance your business results, while the alternative will undermine productivity. Investing in the right software specialist to assist you with this process will undoubtedly save your company time and money.
It is the consultant’s role to facilitate, educate and have pointed discussions from the top down; and should not be a function to keep internal management away from external vendors. If you clearly define goals and hold each party accountable for their respective outcomes, you will get the result you deserve!
The next installment
Your consultant is ultimately a trusted advisor, whatever the engagement. At Plan in Motion, Inc., we focus on business transformation, in addition to technology, when assisting customers with software selection. A successful outcome requires an assessment of your business and thorough evaluation of options, under the guidance of a process expert. My upcoming blogs review various steps in the software selection process.
Suanne McGrath-Kelly is President of Plan in Motion Inc. and currently resides in Toronto, Canada, where she is actively engaged in the business and social community. She loves design, writing, cooking, pilates, and playing golf. Suanne can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org and LinkedIn®www.linkedin.com/in/suannemkelly; or you can follow her via Facebook®www.facebook.com/planinmotion and Twitter®@planinmotion