- Chapter 31: Working with Consultants
- Working with Consultants
- What Are Your Needs?
- Project Manager and Leadership
- Selecting Individual Consultants
- Work Ethic and Attitude
- Large-Scale Project Team Structure
- Preparation for Consultant: Contracts
- Preparation for Consultant: Rates and Fees
- Preparation for Consultant: Fixed-Price Contracts
- Controlling Consulting Project Costs: Change Managementx
- Controlling Consulting Project Costs: Client Involvement
- Controlling Consulting Project Costs: Reviewing the Original Requirements
- Controlling Consulting Project Costs: Weekly Status Reports
- Controlling Consulting Project Costs: Risk and Issues Log
- Controlling Consulting Project Costs: Importance of Database Administrator
- Consulting Work Environment
- Consultant Travel and Costs
- Case Studies of Consultant Behavior
- Case Studies of Client Behavior
Case Studies of Consultant Behavior
This section takes a look at different types of issues that arise when working with consultants. Later in the chapter are some case examples of client behavior. Review some of the following behavior patterns and see which ones apply to your project. In some cases, I have described some recommended approaches to dealing with these issues.
Case Study: The Prima Donna Consultant
The prima donna consultant is usually a quite knowledgeable consultant. The problem with this consultant is that he has forgotten that he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like every other human. When dealing with a prima donna consultant, closely review the responses of other team members. For a period of time, the superior performance and knowledge of the prima donna might outweigh the negative impact on surrounding team members.
There is a difference between solid self-confidence and downright arrogance. The prima donna most certainly will cause damage at some point on the project in terms of how he has affected other consultants or employees. Instead of continuing to utilize the prima donna, you are likely better off long-term with an energetic and hard-working consultant even if this other consultant might have less product knowledge. Use the prima donna to your advantage, but do not let your luck run out.
Long-term, you are usually better off sending this guy to the exit. Do not worry if the door hits him on the way out. His ego cannot be bruised easily anyway.
Case Study: The Worn-Out Consultant
The worn-out consultant can feel drained for any of a number of reasons. Perhaps the consultant has been traveling for several consecutive projects. Moreover, long work hours on your project will likely become necessary at certain stages of the project. This can be quite tiring both physically and mentally. There is a positive way to view this consultant. If she has been involved in a number a high-energy projects, each requiring travel, she might have demonstrated commitment to help other clients succeed. This same type of commitment might see you through to a successful project finish as well. Moreover, her experience level might be high if she has been involved in several projects.
What you must assess is whether this consultant is merely tired or is experiencing genuine burnout. A burned-out consultant might not make it to the finish line. However, if she truly has the skill set, she might be worth the risk of retaining on the project. A reduction in productivity here is probably not a result of a poor character trait.
Case Study: The Quick-and-Dirty Consultant
The quick-and-dirty consultant becomes identified as someone who finishes quickly but often due to being less concerned with quality. This activity is actually to the delight of some fixed price consulting managers. You do not often have to worry about scope creep with this person. You simply need to watch out for sloppiness and insufficient software testing. Also, you do have to worry about whether you are obtaining the best long-term solutions.
This consultant is probably a risk to your project depending on the degree to which he makes haphazard decisions. Try to observe the consultant closely. If he is simply trying to hurry up so that he moves on to the next project, make sure that he first puts closure to your needs and requirements.
Case Study: The Turf-Protecting Consultant
The turf-protecting consultant causes many of the same negative side effects as the prima donna consultant discussed earlier. However, this consultant is likely not as good as the prima donna, so your leash should be short.
The turf protector is a threatened consultant. Often, he is threatened by the presence of other good consultants. He is worried that someone will be better than him, which will cause him to lose his job or position.
Sometimes, he has become a product of his company's consulting environment. There are some recognized (particularly larger) consulting organizations out there that instruct their people to avoid sharing information with consultants from other firms even though they work on the same project. These consultants and their consulting firm have lost track of a valuable lesson. The lesson is that the client is paying them big dollars to help this project become a success.
Do not belabor the point by keeping this consultant and focusing on all the investment you have placed in the consultant over the course of the project. You will be surprised how quickly a good team-playing consultant can come in and get up to speed. The other team members will benefit from a change as well.
Note that the end client has to look closely sometimes to observe this behavior between different consulting firms. Do not become detached to what is happening under your own roof. Stay in close touch with your team members.
The turf protector cannot be rehabilitated (or at least, you should not spend the future time and money to attempt the rehabilitation). This is a character flaw deep within the consultant. His best therapy is if you help him out of the door as soon as possible.
If the turf-protecting consultant is actually a product of a turf-protecting consulting firm, you have already lost a great deal of money, but you do not know it yet. Go find someone who will remember that you are the client and your needs must be first and foremost on the agenda of the project team.
Case Study: The Consultant Afraid of Mistakes
No employee or consultant is perfect. Clearly, you do not want to pay big dollars to a consulting firm where its consultants continually make mistakes and poor decisions. However, much of your implementation involves solving problems and evaluating alternatives. The best consultants are willing to explore multiple solution alternatives. However, they should not be afraid of an occasional mistake. The only real problem is if the consultants fail to acknowledge and correct their mistakes. Overall, these consultants can be productive team members. They might simply need a little encouragement now and then.
Case Study: The Consultant Afraid to Disagree
Somewhat related to the previous consultant is the consultant who is afraid to disagree. You are paying big dollars for consultants to provide quality solutions. At the end of the day, you are better off if you have been able to select solutions based on multiple potential options.
Some consultants do not want to disrupt other team members by suggesting that better, alternative solutions could exist because this is challenging someone else's solution. Similarly, they might be afraid because they do not have the confidence that their solutions could be any better.
Issues such as this are always a balancing act. Communicating a disagreement does not have to imply that you are condoning disagreeable behavior. The focus should be on providing the best solution and not looking negatively at the team members who suggested less optimal solutions. Encourage creative thinking. Encourage different solutions if necessary but still maintain the importance of rallying the team to one solution at the end of the day.
Quite frankly, a consultant needs to be willing to tell the client things that the client does not care to hear. It is in a client's best interests to review its processes from a fresh and different perspective. If the consultant believes an existing business process is inefficient, he is doing the client a disservice by not communicating his recommendation.
Case Study: The Consultant Who Can't Accept Poor Client Decisions
If a consultant is really effective and has good experience, she will attempt to convince the client to alter certain business decisions throughout the project. Most projects finish with at least one solution that a well-experienced consultant would say was not the best decision. What the consultants must remember is that they are not paid to make the final decision. They are paid to provide alternatives and produce solutions. It is the client's job to make the final decision on the various alternatives.
The consultant does not have to live with a decision long-term even if she believes it is the wrong one. It can be important in these situations for the consultant to document her concerns and communicate these to the client. This is actually a good consulting trait when she feels strongly that a decision is not in the best interests of the client. However, at the end of the day, the consultant must realize that she does not get a vote. If she has communicated her concern clearly, that is all she should do. At that point, encourage her to get over it. Encourage her to continue to communicate her concerns as long as they are with a productive and team-oriented attitude.
In fact, this is actually an aspect that attracts many people into consulting. Consider the situation where you work for a company that has made several "bad" decisions. At least, these decisions seem horribly bad in your sight. If you must work for this company for the next 20 years, you will always be reminded of the less than optimal decisions you've watched your company make. However, if you are a consultant, you get to leave the project when it is over. If the client's decisions were truly poor, you do not have to live with them!
Case Study: The Consultant Who Is Never Wrong
The consultant who is never wrong can be quite an irritant. This consultant manifests herself in various ways. She might be a prima donna. She is likely to exhibit similar tendencies to the "Turf-Protecting Consultant" and the "Consultant Who Can't Accept Poor Client Decisions" (discussed earlier in this chapter).
This consultant has an underlying lack of reality. Try to encourage her to not feel threatened when alternative solutions are sometimes accepted. Alternative solutions do not imply a lack of respect or consideration for this consultant's contributions to the project. Separately, encourage her to admit a mistake on a particular project issue privately. This will be a struggle for the consultant who is never wrong. But, when she admits a mistake, say something such as, "Thank you. That demonstrates maturity. This subject is over because I really do not care who made the mistake. I simply want team members who are focused on results and not on whether they will receive blame. We have too much work to do to worry about whether we have made an occasional mistake." By saying that the subject is over, and you have subtly indicated that this consultant's value to the project is not diminished in your mind.
Case Study: The "Reinvent the Wheel" Consultant
This type of consultant is actually someone who tends to over-engineer a solution. This consultant is actually a good person to have on your project team. However, he requires some checks and balances. The advantage of this consultant is that he is quality driven. He wants his client to know that it has received the best solution.
What the client must do and what the consulting managers must do is evaluate when a good solution is good enough. There are certainly times when the absolute best alternative is needed, and you will be glad this consultant was around. However, there are times when you must clearly communicate that a simple solution is sufficient.
Try not to stifle this consultant's creativity; he will hit a home run for you sometimes. At the same time, remind him that you are paying the bills and that you will be truly satisfied with his performance using the less than optimal solution.
Case Study: Good Consultant, Wrong Firm Syndrome
Occasionally, you will observe an excellent consultant who seems to be working for the wrong firm. Perhaps the firm is not meeting her needs in some way. Perhaps the consultant is unhappy with the ethical standards and practices of the firm. Perhaps the consultant has a specialized skill that really does not offer a clear career path within the consulting firm.
As an end-client, you need this consultant to remain with your project until you obtain completion. Unfortunately, you do not have much leverage. If you sense that a consultant is unhappy with her firm, try to maintain open communication with her. Encourage her to stick with you through the end of the project. Encourage her that you will provide an excellent reference for her at her future clients based on her willingness to sacrifice her needs for the good of your project.
Case Study: The 40-Hour Max Consultant
The demands of consulting consist of periods of time on a project requiring long hours. In this section, I am not referring to the consultant who has worked long hours for an extended period of time and then suddenly refuses to do so. I am not referring to any consultant who establishes his normal workweek at 40 hours. I am referring to the consultant who will never go the extra mile for your project when you have a special time of need.
If the consultant typically produces good work, all is not lost. This is probably not a reason to send the consultant packing. However, it will cause some pains at certain times in your project. Ensure that you have other project team members who have obtained some of the skill sets of this consultant. That way, you have an alternative if extra hours are truly needed. Quite honestly, if a consultant falls within this category, he might not remain a consultant long-term. He really needs to return to a "normal" desk job. This situation is unusual in consulting.
Case Study: The Great Attitude, Hard-Working, but Wrong Experience Consultant
Generally, a consultant without sufficient experience should be sent home. After all, the client is paying top dollar to obtain outside consulting experience. However, sometimes you encounter a hard-working consultant with a great attitude but insufficient experience.
These situations should be judged on a case-by-case basis. You are likely to pay more long-term based on the inexperienced decisions made by this consultant. Even if you like the consultant, be prepared to make a change.
On the other hand, you might want to take a chance with this consultant. This is a difficult situation. If this consultant is a quick learner, you might benefit long-term. The team-working attitude and hard-working approach are character traits that should not be overlooked. This person is going to be a great consultant one day. You have to judge whether he is ready to be a good enough consultant now.
Case Study: The Wrong Experience Consultant and Deceitful About It Also
Beware of this person. Some consultants will say anything on a resume and in an interview just to get the job. Then, when they get the job, they will actually be very hard-working to learn the job so that they can earn their stay. These folks are sometimes hard to identify during the interview process. Checking past client references is one of your best bets.
However, now that your project has begun, you might observe that the consultant was not forthcoming with her true Oracle Applications experience in a particular product area. If you conclude that the consultant was deceitful, cut your losses now. No matter how hard she works to demonstrate her value, she cannot be trusted. Perhaps you have heard the old saying, "Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me."
Case Study: The Legitimate Family Crisis
When you engaged your consultants, you probably had carefully laid out assignments on your project plan. Sometimes, legitimate family crises occur, and a consultant must leave the project for a short term. Unfortunately, this is the real world, and this consultant might need your understanding and support just as your own employees will.
Your best preparation for this type of activity involves items discussed earlier in the project: weekly status reports and peer client involvement at all levels of the project.
Case Study: The Continual Crisis Consultant
How do you know whether a consultant is simply having a string of bad luck or is an unstable person in general? Many times, you do not know because you have not had years to get to know this person as an employee. You might have only known him briefly as a consultant. Your sympathy and flexibility are admirable for a human who really is a good person but is having a string of bad luck. The problem is that you have a project with real deadlines. It might be tough making a decision to change your selection to a replacement consultant, but it might be necessary for you to complete the job before the deadlines. I do not suggest a lack of compassion for this person. However, I suggest that you do not sacrifice your entire project wondering and waiting for these crises to end. If you feel this person's substandard productivity or high level of absences will truly sacrifice the positive results of the rest of the team, you need to let this consultant go.
Case Study: Overbooked Consultant
The overbooked consultant is often the consultant who cannot say, "No." This consultant might be working on several projects for several different clients at once. Every time an existing or new client contacts this consultant, she readily agrees to accept the extra work. Although some people can successfully manage multiple part-time consulting assignments simultaneously, the overbooked consultant cannot. This consultant cannot manage her own workload. This consultant will likely not be reliable at critical times during your project.
Case Study: Consultant Looking for First U.S. Experience
This consultant is a person who is new to the United States. A consultant new to the U.S. can have his advantages. Many times, he is hard-working and can be obtained for extremely cheap billing rates. The hiring firm must recognize that this consultant is often high-maintenance. Note here that I am not referring to consultants who have had experience with several U.S. projects.
This consultant might bring some skills to your project that can be put to productive use. For instance, he might be quite effective using PL/SQL. However, if his communication skills are poor, this will require a high level of maintenance by the client or project managers. When managed correctly, you can obtain good return on your lower-cost investment. When not managed correctly, you will spend much more than you might have expected.
Case Study: Contract Programmers Who Think They Are Consultants
Contract programmers are difficult to identify during the interview process. Contract programmers are often successful software developers. They can be skilled in the full cycle of design, development, testing, and documentation of software systems. They are capable of playing important roles on your project implementation.
The problem occurs when a contract programmer believes she is also a consultant. A good consultant can review several business issues and present alternatives to the client. An effective functional consultant must clearly understand more than the technology being used for the solution. Some contract programmers are capable of becoming excellent consultants. As a hiring firm, you should look closely at the consultant's background. You will need key team members who can understand your different business decisions.
This group of programmers is quite confident in their abilities. They can be quite convincing in describing their abilities. If you are unsure about a person, check out her references carefully. Try to determine whether this person is really a consultant or just a contract programmer in disguise.