How to Select the Right Consulting Firm for Your Project

November 17th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

This week on NVTC’s Blog, Business Development, Marketing & Sales Vice Chair Jenny Couch of member company Providge Consulting shares how you can select the consulting firm that will actually help you complete your project successfully.


Picture it: you’re leading a critical project for your company. Success is crucial. And you need to partner with the right consulting firm to make sure the project is a success. So, here you are listening to the fifth consulting company pitch to you today. Each company has promised to literally deliver you the moon if you just place your faith in them. They all have “the best team.” Each company is “innovative” and “world-class” and “client-focused.” Each company gave a visually-engaging presentation while delivering rapid-fire oratory about their “outstanding” experience.

decision_making_process

You’re tired. You’re bored of listening to the same presentation. And you’re not sure how to determine which consulting firm is the best out of the group that pitched. But you have to make a decision. You’ve got a project to move forward!

So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff (please don’t ask, I don’t even know what chaff is), the weak from the strong, the… you get the point. How do you select the consulting firm that will actually help you complete your project successfully?

Sadly, no silver bullet currently exists, but there are a few cues to look for during a company’s pitch to help you select the right firm:

 

  • Confirmation they understand your project’s scope. During a sales pitch, make sure the  firm clearly summarizes your project’s scope. Repeating it isn’t good enough (come on, we can all memorize a few lines). A firm should clearly demonstrate their understanding of your need and the scope. If they aren’t even clear on what the ask is, how can they deliver a viable solution? Bonus points if the pitching firm carefully articulates potential issues with your current scope. After all, you’re hiring them for their expertise – they should demonstrate their experience straight out of the gate.
  • Hard evidence of their greatness. Every firm inserts the following words into their pitch at some point “We’re innovative, world-class, award-winning, best-in-class, outstanding service, client-focused, leader in the marketplace. We have the best team, the greatest tools, the best methodologies, the most cutting-edge solutions.” You get the point. It’s all fine and good to talk about how fabulous you are, but simply stating that you’re the world’s greatest whatever means exactly nothing if you can’t back it up. Look for firms that include evidence of their greatness. How many of their employees are PMP-certified? How many years of experience does the average consultant have? How many consultants have advanced training? What benefits do they offer to recruit the top talent? How long do their engagements last on average with their clients? What actual awards have they won? What tools or methodologies do they use that separate them from the competition?
  • Leadership involvement. Go visit any consulting firm’s website right now. I guarantee you’ll find at least a paragraph, if not entire pages, dedicated to displaying just how focused they are on their clients. Frankly, this should really go without saying. A consulting firm’s business is the success of its clients. If you aren’t winning, we aren’t winning. And a firm that consistently falls down on the job is one that shouldn’t be in business long. But, regardless, a firm being client focused has become an ubiquitous statement in the industry. As with talking about how “great” or “innovative” a firm is, it’s not good enough to simply claim they are client-focused. Instead look for proof of their commitment to their clients through leadership involvement. At Providge, a Managing Director is assigned to every single account, and their cell number is turned over to you so you can reach out to them at anytime throughout the project’s lifecycle. That’s how we work to demonstrate our commitment to our clients, and you should look for similar involvement from your consulting partners.
  • Mitigating strategies and fall back plans – not just empty promises. Sure, we’d all love to have our projects delivered on-time, and on-budget, with no issues whatsoever, no changes in scope, no significant conflict. But this isn’t going to happen. On any project. Ever. If a consulting firm guarantees they can deliver a project perfectly, without issue, conflict, or scope change, oh, and they’ll do it for just 3/4 of the budget, run in the opposite direction. Quickly. Issues, conflicts, and scope changes are bound to come up on any project. Budgets will change and timelines will shift. It’s completely normal. Don’t look for a company that promises to give you absolutely everything you’ve asked for. Look for a company that thoughtfully demonstrates how they proactively address issues and conflicts, how they limit scope creep, how they broach budget or timeline changes. Ask them for examples of how they’ve managed such changes on previous projects. Were the strategies they employed successful? Press them to demonstrate their expertise. If they don’t come to the table with plans for managing commonly-occurring project roadblocks, then cut ’em loose.
  • Real responses to your questions. We’ve all watched politicians respond to questions by giving an entirely unrelated answer. “Thanks for the question, Bob, and let me just talk for a moment about how great this country is, how great the American public is. This country is great, Americans are great, and you’re great. I think that answers your question completely.”  Consulting firms have a similar capacity to spin their responses to questions into another demonstration of how amazing they are, and how they’ll deliver everything you’ve asked for at half the price. So, if you ask a question on say, information assurance, make sure they respond to your actual question – perhaps they provide examples of their approach to information assurance on past projects. Perhaps, they discuss some of the best practices in information assurance and what might make sense for your organization to consider. Maybe the refer to the 75 percent of their team members who have advanced information assurance training. But if you ask about their approach to information assurance, and their response is, “Thanks for the question, Bob. Let me just talk for a minute about how great our company is and how innovative we are when it comes to information assurance. We truly are a world-class firm when it comes to issues of information assurance, and we’ll bring all that greatness, and innovativeness, and world-classiness to your project,” it’s time to give this firm the boot.

Jenny Couch

This post was written by Jenny Couch. Couch is a project management consultant, and Providge’s Business Development Manager. She loves efficiency, to-do lists, and delivering projects on-time and on-budget.

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This week on NVTC’s blog, NVTC member company Kathy Stershic of Dialog Communications continues her Brand Reputation in the Era of Data series by sharing principle four: protecting data when it is passed on to others in your value chain.


Here is the Fourth of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships, based on Dialog’s recent research.

While the last post discussed getting your own house in order around protecting customer data, equally important is protection of that data when it is passed on to others in your value chain.

Consumers regularly agree to share data with a particular organization for immediately known purposes – a purchase transaction, registering for a site or service, downloading an app. There is an abstract understanding that their data is shared. But the specifics of with whom, how and for what are vague to all but the most attentive, usually those who work in a marketing capacity. I recently heard a statistic that a data broker will have about 1500 pieces of information on an average individual! I didn’t know there could be 1500 things about me to be tracked. Who knew I was so interesting?

This vague concept of ‘they have all of my data’ is unsettling, leaving people feeling powerless and hoping that nothing harmful will befall as a result. It is perhaps the greatest area of concern for our study respondents. Legal requirements are normally that the data owner has bottom line responsibility (read that the one who could be sued in a breach), so it behooves you as a data collector to integrate strict data management terms into your third party contracts.

But beyond that, it’s how the data is used and monetized – and we all know this is the holy grail of marketing – that respondents find troubling. One respondent noted that “3rd party access to my search history is completely inappropriate.” Another noted that “if you got my data from somewhere else, tell me where you got it from.” Some of the other concerns expressed included not allowing an individual’s identity or data given for one perceived purpose to be used by entities that have control over other parts of their lives – insurance, credit, employers, housing, civil litigation, healthcare providers, surveillance or profiling, divorce court, political parties, or the news media, except as allowed by law. Data collectors should therefore carefully consider legal requests vs. legal requirements.

One suggestion was to have and observe universal standards on collection and distribution of sensitive and potentially harmful medical and financial information. There are already laws about these domains, but data analytics can get pretty accurate at some of these situations using other non-regulated data.

But some respondents also took a Buyer Beware stance, saying that data voluntarily given and captured through public means is there for the taker, and consumers can always choose not to participate in a transaction. Better to educate people about what is being harvested about them and how it is used. Perhaps improving privacy policies would be a good start. But it can be challenging to get that message across when data is handed off to anonymous 3rd parties whose very existence or purposes are unknown to average people.

With the Internet of Things, this situation will grow exponentially, creating further issues of securing data at the points of collection, transfer and curation x 1000 – and the implications for Big Data crunching that will come from it. Bottom line – mind your partners. Privacy protections need to be contractually obligated with third parties, but prudence dictates you avoid sharing with those who perpetrate the creep factor, especially when contributions can be traced back to you.

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