Monday, June 30, 2008

Surefire Strategy #9 For Producing A Consulting Train Wreck - "Sub Out the Work, Go Do Something Else, then Check in with the Contractor at the End"

Welcome to my next surefire strategy for bewildering your customer with your ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of consulting project victory. Strategy #9 is an oft-followed approach that goes something like this

1. Prime contractor wins a major piece of business following an RFP process

2. Prime contractor now realizes that he won't be able to do all (or in some cases ANY) of the work that he so creatively described himself as being able to do in his RFP response. This could be for a number of reasons including but not limited to:

- he doesn't have the expertise required
- he doesn't have the bandwidth or the staff to do the work himself
- he would rather spend time selling the next piece of work rather than deliver this one

3. Prime contractor rapidly finds and hires a subcontractor (who is generally an expert in the work that has been sold) to do the work. Prime contractor reviews proposal with subcontractor, provides cursory explanation of promised deliverables, and negotiates hourly rate for subcontractor to complete the work while still leaving a fairly attractive profit margin for himself.

4. Prime contractor leaves subcontractor to do the work while he, well, does something else.

............................TWELVE WEEKS LATER............................

5. Prime contractor returns from Maui and drives directly from LAX to client site to meet with subcontractor for review of final deliverables. On arrival at client, prime contractor is horrified to learn that:

- Project is four weeks behind schedule
- Subcontractor has already billed an amount equal to your budget and is demanding additional payment to complete the project
- Subcontractor's travel expenses are equal to 40% of project fees
- Customer is withholding your final payment pending delivery and acceptance of the final deliverable, still four weeks away

6. Prime contractor fires subcontractor and completes the work himself. In some cases the prime contractor will even need to hire another sub if the work requires expertise completely outside of his comfort zone, making the project economics even worse. Results? Late and sub-par deliverables, miserable profit margin, and - perhaps worst of all - a very unimpressed client who will likely hire their mother-in-law rather than you the next time they need a consultant.

What went wrong? Well, by following "Surefire Strategy #9 for Producing a Consulting Train Wreck" the prime contractor above completely failed to adhere to some of the cardinal rules of SUBCONTRACTOR MANAGEMENT, namely:

Rule 1: Clearly identify subcontractor requirements for your project DURING THE SALES PROCESS and identify and shortlist subcontractor candidates well in advance of you winning the work and certainly well before kicking the project off.

Rule 2: Should you win the work, interview your shortlisted subcontractor candidates. Evaluate them based on their understanding of the project's deliverables (which you will VERY clearly define for them) and their ability to persuade you of their expertise and capability to deliver.

Rule 3: Negotiate compensation with your selected subcontractor whereby payment is tied to the SUBCONTRACTOR COMPLETING DELIVERABLES THAT ARE ACCEPTED BY THE CUSTOMER. That way, even if you are indeed in Maui, the sub has an incentive to produce high quality and timely deliverables.

Rule 4: For goodness sake, demand at least twice-weekly status reports from your subcontractor during the project. Preferably, visit the project site at least every other week.

Rule 5: STAY IN TOUCH WITH THE CUSTOMER. Although you are outsourcing the delivery of the work, NEVER OUTSOURCE THE CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP. Put in at least a weekly call to your main client sponsor to make sure that she is happy with the progress of the project. Remember, the customer doesn't necessarily need to know that your subcontractor is actually a subcontractor (unless, of course, you are bound by the terms of your contract with the customer to disclose this) - for all they know the subcontractor is one of your employees. And you would always keep on top of the work of one of your employees, wouldn't you?

In other words, AVOID AT ALL COSTS Surefire Strategy #9 for Producing a Consulting Project Train Wreck – “Sub Out Major Parts of the Work, Go Do Something Else, and then Check in With the Contractor at the End”!! Implement the antithesis of Strategy #9 instead! In this particular case, this means following the CARDINAL RULES OF SUBCONTRACTOR MANAGEMENT above.

Are you getting into the swing of this "Implement the Antithesis" thing yet? Good!!

Next week, visit 1Procurement Place for Surefire Strategy #8 for Producing a Consulting Train Wreck - "Just Focus on Things You Can Control - You Can't Be Blamed for the Actions of Others".

Friday, June 27, 2008

Is There Such a Thing as Knowledge Transfer?

This consultant was talking with one of his clients this week about knowledge transfer on consulting projects. Specifically, does it ever actually happen? The standard vanilla consultant script on this subject (which I have personally delivered OH so many times) is something like:

"Well, there are a three main ways we could make knowledge transfer happen for you, Steve. One approach is for us to lead the engagement and for one of your guys to shadow the consultant lead on each category team. That way, your people will pick up the skills as they watch our consultants do the work. A second way is formal classroom training courses which we would deliver to your folks. At the completion of the training your staff would have the skills to execute the work themselves. A third way is to use a combination of the two". (Have you noticed how the third way is always a combination of the first two? Hmm.)

What do you all think? Which is the best way to transfer knowledge to client staff on consulting projects? Do any of them really work? I have my views. I want to know yours. Let's discuss next week.

Also next week - a little late I know, but what's new (Hey! I'm Working Here!) - Surefire Strategy #9 for Producing a Consulting Project Trainwreck - "Sub Out Major Parts of the Work, Go Do Other Stuff, then Check in with the Contractor at the End".

Friday, June 20, 2008

Surefire Strategy #10 For Producing A Consulting Project Train Wreck - "Have Faith That Everyone Will Know What This Project Was All About At The End"

So here we are folks, the first of my proven strategies for ensuring that your consulting project never actually delivers a single ounce of value for your client. And remember, the key is to ultimately identify the antithesis of this strategy and implement THAT instead! Surreal I know but then the writer of this blog is British and very much a fan of all things Monty Python.

The "Have Faith That Everyone Will Know What This Project Was All About At The End" strategy refers to the approach of never actually letting the client in on the secret of what you are planning to deliver by the project's end. These projects generally start out well enough but invariably reach a point where client and consultant have a conversation something like the one below:

CLIENT PROJECT SPONSOR: Thanks for meeting with me at short notice, Jim, but I have a concern about something. I’m sure it’ll only take a minute to clear up.

CONSULTANT PROJECT MANAGER: Sure, Susan. What’s the problem?

CLIENT PROJECT SPONSOR: Well, I dropped in on Rob this morning to get an update on the project and he showed me the Phase 1 deliverable document you guys have just finished. I was a bit confused. It wasn’t quite what I expected.


CLIENT PROJECT SPONSOR: Well quite frankly I’d been expecting more from eight weeks of work than a PowerPoint document with a few tables on observations and issues. Didn’t we talk about “as is” process flows? And what about the item level savings analysis? All I saw were some industry average percentages applied to the same numbers our accounts payable group gave you in June. There’s more detail behind what Rob showed me, right?

CONSULTANT PROJECT MANAGER: Hmmm, well not really Susan. I think we talked about process flows being something that could be done in some situations but that what made more sense here was working with stakeholders to get to key issues. We’d then structure the to-be vision to directly address these issues. As for the savings analysis, well we always said that the ability to go the item level would hinge on being able to collect the data. Unfortunately we just couldn’t get the data from the field so we had to use the accounts payable numbers.

CLIENT PROJECT SPONSOR: I have to admit, Jim, I’m not happy about this. I had a very different picture of where we would be at this stage of the project. Until I feel expectations have been better met I’m going to delay signing off on the Phase 1 deliverable. Let’s pull the project team together at 2 o’ clock and figure out how to fill in the missing pieces.

What eventually transpired in the project above? Susan found out in the meeting that the field had indeed been unable to provide the required data and that the smartest and most resourceful consultant in the world would never have been able to generate the “promised” item level savings analysis. And the as-is process flows? If producing these flows had been expressed as a must-have requirement at the beginning of the project it had never been documented. Susan ultimately became resigned to the fact that she had no clear grounds to deny payment to the consultants for the Phase 1 work. What she did do, however, was to exercise her right to terminate the project before embarking upon Phase 2. Losers all round – the client received no value from its perspective and the consultant lost the remaining revenue as well as the chance to ever do business with that particular client again.

What went wrong? First, it is clear that the major work products and deliverables for this project were not clearly defined up front. It was the responsibility of Jim to provide clear and unambiguous definitions of these to Susan before the start of the project. It would then have been clear whether or not process flows were to be produced or not. Secondly, expectations were not set with the client about potential project risks and the impact of these risks on project deliverables. If Jim had explained to Susan up front about the risk and impact of not being able to collect the item data then Susan could have made an informed decision about whether to move forward with the project or not. But because the risks were never explained she never had the chance to make that decision.

The takeaway from the above is:

Always define clear and unambiguous work products and deliverables for your project and, in addition, set clear expectations about potential project risks and the impact of these risks upon the work products and deliverables.

In other words, AVOID AT ALL COSTS Surefire Strategy #10 for Producing a Consulting Project Train Wreck – “Have Faith That Everyone Will Know What This Project Is All About At The End”!! Implement the antithesis of Strategy #10 instead! Get the idea? Good!

Coming next week – Surefire Strategy #9 for Producing a Consulting Project Train Wreck:

“Sub Out Major Parts of the Work, Get On With Other Stuff Then Check In With The Contractor At The End”

Monday, June 16, 2008


So I'll admit this has been a very inauspicious start for the 1 Procurement Place blog. Nearly two weeks late for our own opening! To the millions of you worldwide in sourcing & procurement land who were awaiting the inaugural post there are no grand excuses except.........we were busy. Busy selling and delivering, selling and delivering...or perhaps I should say....selling and wondering how to deliver? No just joking. But my colleagues and I have indeed been doing what we all love to do which is spending time with our customers, potential customers, alliance partners, and other members of our industry peer network. Which is to say that we - or rather I (as I was the original instigator in our firm of the "non-traditional and controversial procurement blog" idea) have not been able to light the blue touch paper on this thing. That is about to change however......I promise! For this week, 1 Procurement Place will unveil the first of its TOP TEN SUREFIRE STRATEGIES FOR PRODUCING A CONSULTING PROJECT TRAIN WRECK. Any one of these strategies, if implemented by a consultant, will guarantee the unequivocal and stunningly visual failure of your consulting project and in the process also ensure that zero value is created for your client. Conversely, and infinitely more sensibly, recognizing and implementing the antithesis of these strategies will delight your customers and elevate your standing to that of "Value Creator"! Can't wait? You'll have to, but only a little longer.........