Myth #5: Outside Consultants Should Have All The Answers – Part #1 (Lesson 17)
Consultants are engaged for many different reasons. Generally speaking, however, it boils down to helping to solve a particular problem at a particular point in time.
Sometimes an organisation lacks specific expertise, or experience in a certain domain – either business or technical. The organisation may have good knowledge, but needs access to a wider breadth of understanding or depth of skills in a particular specialist niche. Alternatively, the consultant may just be needed for one-off jobs, or to satisfy peak-demand workloads.
Regardless of the reason for bringing in a consultant (or team of consultants), client expectations are high – understandably and quite correctly so. Consultants need to add value at all times to solve the target problem.
Hiring consultants with niche skills
When you sign a contract with a supplier to implement a new system for your organisation, excitement and expectations are typically running high. Your organisation probably has little knowledge of the specific product(s) at this time, and so expects and needs to be guided throughout the whole process.
The time taken to reach the buying decision has given everyone in your team plenty of time to form their own opinion as to what will happen next, and what their involvement might be.
The general consensus is usually that ‘the consultants are coming in to build us a new system’, which is true. The challenges start, however, because it is human nature to expect that experts who are coming in to build a system already know everything they need to know. (They are experts, after all!)
As a client, you may assume that, because you are buying the expertise, every consultant will arrive ‘fully loaded’ with all the right information and solutions.
The myth that Outside Consultants Should Have All The Answers quickly starts to unravel at this point. Suddenly, the gulf between the business expert’s knowledge and the consultant’s knowledge starts to become apparent.
The reality is that the consultant needs to uncover a lot of information from the client business experts. They then need to collate, analyse, synthesise, and translate this into a form that both parties can understand and agree on.
The client team has probably already spent weeks with the buying team (and perhaps even the supplier’s pre-sales team). They have explained various aspects of the way they currently work, and agreed how they might like to work in the future.
They may even have spent time creating various internal documents to this end.
‘The consultants should already know this!’
The frustration often starts at this point, and continues well into the project. The cry goes up: ‘Why are we having to explain everything again?!’
The answer to this question is that each project is a unique continuum of shared activities that progress through ever-refining layers and levels of detail from:
- The executives’ first thoughts that ‘something must be done’.
- Buying a solution.
- Understanding the needs of the business at a deep level.
- Building a new system.
- Deploying and stabilising the new system.
- Transitioning to using the system and having it become BAU.
Consultants will never arrive with a fully formed picture of everything that needs to be built into your solution. Less still will they already know the best way in which to build it.
There are always several different ways to achieve the same, or a similar, outcome within your new system. Only by conducting a detailed investigation with your team can the consultant uncover the level of information needed to enable the best choice to be made.
‘Why are we doing this when we are paying consultants to do it?’
Your team may be surprised by the amount of their effort that this project will take (for many, alongside their day job). If so, then between your buying team and the supplier’s pre-sales team, expectations have not adequately been set.
Unless your organisation undertakes a significant number of technology projects and has clear and effective project frameworks and processes embedded into the business, much of what happens on projects is likely to be news to your team.
A mature supplier should anticipate this challenge, and set expectations accordingly. They should also plan the appropriate activity and effort throughout the project from the proposal stage.
Regardless of whether expectations were set appropriately, the facts remain the same: consultants do not have all the answers. Instead, they work with you to obtain the right answers.
In turn, your team has to plan to ‘come to the party’. They are just as responsible for successful projects as the consultants.