Traditional Or Milestone Consulting – Which is Best?

Why are you here? More than a metaphysical question, many organizations may recognize the need for consultants but remain unsure about how to use them. To be sure, organizations can utilize consultants in a variety of ways. This article addresses two different consulting alternatives–traditional and milestone–as well as the pros and cons of each.

In a traditional consulting arrangement, a firm deploys a team of full-time individuals at a client site for forty hours per week, typically four days at ten hours per day per consultant. Conversely, under milestone consulting, a client employs a consulting firm to check in with them on a regular basis, ensuring that the project is both meeting its individual goals and, from a broader perspective, remains on track. A client will often utilize a hybrid consultant–equal parts project manager, techie, and application expert–to visit on site every two weeks or so. Now that the definitions are out of the way, let’s discuss each in more detail.

Traditional Consulting

Consultancies typically prefer this arrangement for a number of reasons. First and foremost, traditional consulting maximizes billable time and revenue. Second, and there is more than a bit of truth to this, consultants on the ground can better steer clients in the right direction throughout the project, manage issues, and ensure an overall smoother implementation than if they were not present.

On the downside, traditional consulting tends to be the most expensive option for clients. Also, many organizations face end-user availability issues. Client end-users are often overworked and too busy to spend time with consultants. Remember, end-users on implementation teams have day jobs while consultants exclusively implement the new system. While consultants can work independently, at certain points, client input is imperative. Consultants on site are billing regardless of whether their skills are being used efficiently or not. In the rare event that a project is running ahead of schedule, rare is the consulting company that attempts to move dates up or suggests that its consultants do not need to be on site for several weeks.

Milestone Consulting

Benefits of this approach include keeping costs to a minimum. Also, to the extent that the consultant’s arrival is known well in advance, end-users can focus on their day jobs during the week knowing that they will devote certain days to the new system, coinciding with the arrival of the consultant. In theory, this can be more efficient.

This method should be used judiciously, as it is rife with potential disadvantages. For one, there may be no one keeping an eye on the implementation on a daily basis, allowing goals and dates to fall by the wayside. Issues may not be broached in time to address them without impacting a go-live date. Also, the implementation’s flow may suffer. Projects that constantly start and stop often lose momentum. Projects with more interruptions have a greater chance of failure and milestone-based approaches tend to have this limitation.

Considerations: Which is Best?

Given how much consultants cost, many clients might question the need to have a team of three or more highly paid hourly resources on staff for forty hours per week. To be sure, there is more than one way to deploy consultants in a cost-effective manner. As a general rule, the quality and number of required external resources varies indirectly with the quality and number of available and experienced internal end-users. In other words, an organization with extensive internal resources and expertise needs fewer external consultants. Organizations cannot expect to successfully implement major systems exclusively with either consultants or end-users. Almost always, a combination of each is required. While not necessarily advisable, organizations are often able to handle relatively limited upgrades and enhancements in a “consultant-free” manner.

Another consideration is end-user availability. Regular employees still have to do their day jobs in order for the organization to conduct business. For example, a payroll manager cannot set up, test, and document a new payroll system at the expense of paying current employees. By the same token, the head of IT cannot configure security for one system while neglecting to fight the fires of another system. This rule can alternatively be stated as follows: If an organization wants to minimize the number of external consultants on an implementation, it must ensure that the end-users on its implementation team: 1) are devoted regularly and significantly to the implementation of that new system; and 2) have sufficient expertise in that system.

A project’s timeframe, issue complexity, and scope are also critical factors. All else equal, consultants called in to solve a discrete task with no particular due date may not need to set up show for months at a time. Assuming an organization’s documentation is sufficient, a consulting firm may be able to perform the work required using the milestone approach. Conversely, consider a client with a bevy of complex issues, poor internal documentation, and a drop-dead date of two months to resolve an issue. It’s very unlikely that the client will be able to use consultants in a limited capacity.

Minimal consultant input and resources does not mean zero. On just about every new system implementation or upgrade, organizations need to utilize external application experts, technical resources adept at installing the application, and seasoned project managers who have dealt with many of the issues likely to face the client.

Summary and Conclusions

There are too many factors to determine the best type of consulting arrangement for any given client or project. There are potential drawbacks to both the traditional and milestone consulting approaches and one size certain does not fit all. To be sure, most organizations do not have the expertise that consultancies can provide. As such, organizations benefit from knowledgeable, on-site consultants who ensure that the project stays on course, issues are reported and resolved and individual objectives are met.

Before hiring external consultants, senior management should take into consideration issues such as budget, the state of its internal documentation, end-user availability, and the timeframe, scope, and complex

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Performance Consulting – What You Should Expect from Your Business Consultant

As a small business owner, you are paying big bucks for a skilled consultant to help resolve a pressing issue. What should you expect from your business consultant? This article will list why most business owners or managers hire a consultant. This article will also describe four key areas of knowledge a highly skilled consultant should possess in order to provide performance consulting.

The reason most businesses hire a consultant is generally because they need someone who has the technical skills, the knowledge and the experience needed to perform a required function. Most business owners or managers are juggling a lot of balls in the air during day to day operations. They do not have the time or the resources to stop everything and focus on the tasks required to resolve some issue or develop some new program or process. Another reason is that some issues, such as conflict resolution, strategic planning, or establishing a more visible brand may require skill-sets that are not currently available within the organization. In any case consultants provide a valued service by focusing on the needs of the organization through their knowledge, education and experience.

There are four key areas required by a performance oriented consultant:

1. People Skills

2. Content Knowledge

3. Organizational Knowledge

4. Consulting Skills

A competent consultant takes the initiative to seek out the stakeholders who will provide invaluable insight into the organization, its operations and it processes. Stakeholders include everyone who has a stake in the business, such as top management, middle managers and supervisors, and workers. Stakeholders may also include all those external players such as supplies, distributors, outside sales, and even customers. A good consultant will have the people skills to forge relationships at each level of the organization and create a working network of key people. It is though these people, the consultant will gain insight and discover the inter-workings of the organization.

A competent consultant will have the content knowledge necessary to bring in-depth understanding to the project. This does not necessarily mean that the consultant has to be an expert in the same field as the business. For example, while working with a winery, an organizational development consultant does not have to be a wine expert. The winery’s staff members are the real wine experts. The organizational development consultant is an expert in organizational development and combined with the winery staff, they will form a sort of team of experts.

Organizational knowledge is another key area. A consultant must understand how the business or organization is put together. A good consultant will seek the connections between various operational components, the people working in those areas and the various stakeholders that influence or rely on each area. One of the first things a manager can do is to check on the consultant’s background and experience. Who has he or she worked with in your industry? Does the consultant provide a list of references? Another way to check on a consultant’s organizational knowledge is to check out the professional organizations the consultant belongs. Ask about the consultant’s professional development. A good consultant should belong to key organizations, read professional journals, and attend appropriate conferences and workshops to keep up with new innovations.

The last important area for a competent consultant must include their consulting skills. The practice of consulting is a synergistic process between the consultant and the stakeholders of the organization. These skills should include the ability to perform an in-depth assessment of the situation. This is a hands-on top down process for collecting data. Once the assessment has been performed, a proposal is written explaining the situation as it appears, the steps the consultant will take to perform the consulting function, a time frame, the fee schedule and method of payment, and the performance outcomes or deliverables. A good proposal will be a sort of checklist of how things will be done and what is expected at the end. A good consultant will provide a professional looking document in the form of a contract, which when signed will be the agreements on how and when work will begin.

A competent consultant will be one that is considered a performance consultant. You should expect a lot from your consultant, especially when it comes to their people skills, their content knowledge, their organizational knowledge and their consulting skills. It takes the whole package of skills and knowledge, backed by education and experience, to provide your organization the very best results.

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