A good consulting partner can be a huge asset. Consultants can supplement your company’s work when you don’t have the necessary resources, time or expertise. Or, they can help to deliver crucial projects to meet your business goals.
As a business leader, you want to ensure that you get the most value out of your consulting partner so you keep your focus where it’s needed: leading your team, managing your budget, and meeting your objectives and goals.
Whether your IT consulting partner is supplementing your team, or delivering a major project, getting more value out of that partnership is crucial.
Let’s explore a few ways you can make sure you get the best return from your IT consulting partner.
Review new consultants. A company is only as good as its people. Nowhere does this apply more than in consulting. If your IT consulting firm doesn’t provide you with the right resources to meet your business objectives, you’re starting down a path to failure.
The “right resource” is more than simply a resource with the required experience. The right resource has the required experience, fits well into your company’s culture, is able to build relationships with key stakeholders, and meets your budgetary needs. We’ll dig into what truly makes a resource right for you in next week’s post.
When your IT consulting partner proposes new resources, sit down with them to review the candidate(s). Your consulting partner should have a process in place to demonstrate why the proposed resource is the “right resource”. If they’re unable to do so, and point simply to their experience, then it’s time for a larger conversation about how they hire and propose candidates.
Provide clear requirements. An IT consulting partner should be there to help you achieve your goals, not define them for you. Thus, consistently providing clear, detailed, well-defined requirements to your IT consulting partner is one of the best ways to ensure you receive the greatest possible value.
Without well-defined requirements your IT consulting partner will either:
- Be forced to try to create the requirements – if your IT consulting partner elects to try to create requirements for you this will not only increase the number of billable hours as their scope has increased, it’s likely to cause unnecessary confusion. Your IT partner will try to establish requirements without access to critical aspects of information you, and your team likely have including: budget, interaction with other projects, larger business goals, intracompany dynamics, etc. Trying to establish requirements without the deep company knowledge your and your team have is also likely to cause project delays, as your partner attempts to develop requirements without key institutional knowledge.
- Work without requirements – this is the worst possible outcome if you do not provide your partner with clear requirements. IT consultants, as all team members do, require some direction and structure. Without it, we’re liable to start wandering. Without requirements, it’s impossible to determine whether your partner is meeting the agreed-upon deliverables, meaning you have no sense of your return on investment, and your IT consulting partner will have no direction to provide to their consultants. Low productivity and frequent delays are often caused by your IT consultants working without solid requirements.
Establish communication norms. What causes nearly every project cost overrun, delay, or derailing? Miscommunication. And it’s easily avoidable.
How? At the outset of a new partnership agree to communication norms for both parties. These norms should include:
- How and when to report on progress towards deliverables and milestones
- How to track issues, risks, and decisions
- What types of issues, risks, or decisions need to be immediately reported
- How to report urgent items
- Email norms and expectations
Taking the time to establish communication norms at the outset of a new engagement lays the solid groundwork needed to prevent significant miscommunication issues as the project, or partnership ramps up. It can seem tedious, but it’s important to note that each organization has unique communication methods and expectations. Your IT consulting partner needs to be thoroughly familiar with those methods and expectations. After all, it’s hard to align to methods and meet expectations if you don’t know what they are.
Meet consistently. Meeting consistently with a leader from your IT consulting firm provides several advantages:
- Address issues early on. By meeting consistently, you are both able to raise any issues or roadblocks before they become major obstacles and work collaboratively to resolve the challenge.
- Discuss changes to scope or requirements. It’s critical that changes to your scope or requirements be communicated quickly so your partner can respond and make needed adjustments to the team, project plan, or workload. With consistent meetings, there is a regular forum in which to provide such updates and review changes.
- Track progress. To deliver a project on time and on budget both you and your IT consulting partner need to constantly monitor progress and ensure smaller milestones are being met. Use your ongoing meeting to dedicate time to reviewing project milestones, phase-gates, and costs to confirm both parties are aligned.
Offer regular feedback. As Bill Gates said, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” That includes your IT consulting partner. Without regular feedback from you, your IT consulting partner won’t be able to make adjustments needed to improve. And even small changes can often have a large, positive impact on a project.
Make sure to build into your agreement a structure to provide ongoing feedback to your IT consulting partner. That feedback can be provided during weekly meetings, in written reports, or during a separate monthly, or bi-monthly session. However you choose to provide it, let your partner know when they can expect feedback on their performance.
Reevaluate team size. Projects change. Requirements change. Scope changes. It’s the nature of any project or business.
Project requirement and scope changes may mean a change to the resourcing required for the project. When such changes happen, sit down with your IT consulting partner and determine whether subsequent changes need to be made to the current team. It may be a matter of re-balancing current workloads, or re-deploying resources, but in some situations teams may need to be sized up or down to accommodate more significant project requirement and scope changes.