Don’t Hire a Consultant, Invest In One
I’d like to preface this post with an apology to any consultant who may read it. If you get past the first two paragraphs, I know you’ll like what it has to say.
This Dilbert strip was published 18 years ago, before I joined the world of consulting, and has always been one of my favorites. What I admire most about Scott Adams’ work is that his characters translate euphemism-wrapped corporate speak into plain English and this is a prime example.
Dogbert gives voice to something I thought at the time it was published, and I’m sure it is still a common thought among many who find themselves in the position of having to hire a consultant. I don’t have any empirical data to tell me how common the perception is, but I can tell you that it is one that needs to be debunked.
Not only am I here to tell you that perception is not reality, I’m going to make the case that a good consultant is not only worth the money, they can actually be a great investment, complete with a positive ROI. Hard as it is to believe, a consultant you engage to navigate the waters of significant change can pay for themselves by reducing costs in other places.
Let me elaborate.
A True Point Person
A significant change project – like the selection and installation of new enterprise software – requires a team of people with a project manager at the helm. We’re talking about dedicating a ffull-timeemployee (50-60 hours per week, or more) to oversee every aspect of the project. The project is not just their top priority; it is their only priority. Using a consultant to fill the role of project manager delivers two primary benefits.
First, it eliminates the need for you to assign one of your internal resources to the job. Companies that go this route quickly realize that they are asking someone to do two jobs. That is never the intent but is almost always the result. Even if you have a way to backfill for the position, whomever you tap as the project manager will find themselves being pulled into things they were supposed to have left behind. Each time this happens, it diverts attention from their number one priority: selecting and implementing the new ERP system.
Simply put, an internal project manager will never be able to make the project their only priority. It may be at the top of their list but will never enjoy the exclusivity it requires. You will have to select someone internally to liaise directly with the consultant, just as a matter of good practice, but, like other internal team members, it is a role that can typically be managed in addition to their day-to-day work.
The second benefit of using a consultant to run point on your change project is it’s what they do. If you want a project to run smoothly, hand it over to someone with the training and experience necessary to complete it on time and on budget. You have a company full of competent people managing their various departments. Your enterprise software project deserves equally competent management. The kind only a dedicated experienced consultant can provide.
Nothing leads to failure like layering added pressure on a staff that is already laboring under the weight of too many projects. Using a consultant won’t remove anything that currently occupies their plates, and it won’t eliminate their need to play a role in the change project, but it will dramatically reduce the time required of them.
A consultant knows the strengths and weaknesses of multiple software suites. They have access to functional experts – operations, sales, customer service, financial, etc. – who approach their work without biases or predetermined outcomes in terms of your processes and software selection.
A consultant is the subject matter expert assigned to manage the project. You and your team can rely on their expertise. Your team will certainly have work to do, but the consultant at the front is there to keep everyone on task and the project on track. Yes, there will continue to be pressure and stress from time to time, but it will be so much less than if you attempted to take on the project entirely in-house.
A consultant’s value can be measured in several ways. Some, like increased morale and reduced stress, cannot be measured in hard currency while others can. One of the most noticeable ways a consultant can pay for themselves is through their negotiating power.
Consultants work with several software publishers and resellers every day, and they have a unique ability to negotiate prices on software and services you could not possibly get. I’m not saying your negotiation skills leave something to be desired, but if you don’t have an ongoing business relationship with the software provider, your chances of getting a great deal versus a good deal are pretty small.
Consultants have insights into pricing variables that only come from doing business with people over several years. Just as you understand your vendor’s pricing, consultants know the right levers to pull to get you the best possible pricing on software and services. In fact, it’s not unusual for a consultant to negotiate a deal that saves you enough money to pay for their services.
So there you have it, my case for how consultants can deliver a positive ROI, emotionally and monetarily. Consulting is a specialty, as are operations, sales, and accounting, and executing a change project requires someone with the expertise only a seasoned consultant can bring.
Find a good consultant to guide your company through the changes ahead. Your team will thank you for it, and you’ll thank yourself.