As the service industry grows it is worth shining a spotlight on the traditional consulting model. Does it provide the best value for the client? In a later post we will explore some alternative consulting models but first let’s look at some traditional ones.

The traditional model involves a business encountering a problem which they don’t have sufficient capability to solve. In reviewing the options open to them which can include up skilling existing staff, outsourcing the problem and/or changing the business to avoid the problem, they decide that engaging a consultant is the best option. The consultant organisation is given the problem and a short period of time to provide a solution to the problem.

All this sounds simple and it works well for simple problems. Some examples of simple problems are:

  • How do I update my schedule using Subcontractor information
  • What’s the best sequence to explore and appraise an asset
  • What’s the estimate of cost for this piece of work

As the problem becomes complicated or complex this consulting model is not as effective. The consultant is asked to do the mission impossible as organisational issues surface, improper preparation is evident or executive support is lacking.

What are some things we can do to make this simple model work better? (Bear in mind that we need to think differently for complex engagements).

  • Earlier engagement. Engaging the consultant early on ensures a greater understanding of scope, ensures a joint plan of attack can be conceived (which promotes ownership), and ensures a better understanding of constraints and assumptions. Most consulting companies will perform this early engagement work free depending on the size of the project
  • Less consulting resource. This enables the client organisation to gain capability. Consultant doesn’t become a crutch that can’t be removed
  • Stick to the scope. Don’t be afraid of change in scope but ensure you understand how that changes the overall product
  • Plan for closure. Any elements that require ongoing support should be listed and ensured that the consultant doesn’t become embedded in the client team

To enable any project (and all consulting assignments should be treated as projects!) to succeed proper planning prevents poor performance. Proper planning always involves a good definition of the problem.