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, Business Development, Marketing & Sales Vice Chair Jenny Couch of member company Providge Consulting shares potential benefits and risk factors of outsourcing your tech department.


Maintaining an in-house IT department is the right decision for many businesses, especially those where IT is a central, or critical aspect of the business.

But for many companies, maintaining an IT department that is fully equipped to tackle any IT need your company may encounter can be costly and inefficient.

outsource

Outsourcing certain functions of your IT department may deliver a number of benefits to your company. But, in assessing whether outsourcing is the right decision for your company, you should also consider the potential risks.

Let’s take a look at some of the potential benefits, and consider some risk factors of outsourcing your tech department.

The benefits…

  1. Accommodate shifting projects and priorities. IT needs fluctuate constantly. It may be difficult to shift full-time employees who were hired for a specific skill set around as your company’s IT needs change. By outsourcing, you can easily accommodate changes as your IT projects and priorities shift.
  2. Deploy resources where you need them, only for as long as you need them. Going through an operating system upgrade? Implementing a new ERP system? These are projects that will require a temporary increase in resources. Hiring full-time employees to fulfill short-term needs is expensive, and time consuming. Through outsourcing, resources can quickly be scaled up and down to accommodate project needs, or occasional increases in departmental workloads.
  3. Gain access to talented specialists. Certain IT functions, or software require support from highly-qualified specialists. These specialists often have years of experience, extensive training, and a hefty price tag. Bringing them on full-time is expensive. And that’s if you can even find such specialists in the first place. By relying on an external vendor who will either already have these specialists in-house, or experience recruiting these specialists you can drastically reduce the time and money involved in recruiting and retaining such specialists.
  4. Free up internal resources. Roles and responsibilities change over time sometimes for the better, sometimes for well, the not-so-better. Your IT team may have picked up responsibilities overtime they were never supposed to support, thereby neglecting their original scope of responsibility. By outsourcing certain functions, especially those functions that can be easily outsourced, your staff can gain back the critical time they need to perform their role effectively.
  5. Cost savings. Ultimately, when done right, outsourcing your IT needs, can significantly reduce you IT costs. If you’re able to better accommodate shifting projects and priorities, deploy resources where you need them for as long as you need them, gain access to talented specialists when needed, and free up your internal resources, you can reduce costs across the board, and improve the effectiveness of your overall IT department.

And now for the risks…

  1. Your vendor’s approach and plans may not align with your strategic plan. Are you planning to rely on an ERP system to support your back-office functionality? Is there a desire to move to the cloud now or in the future? What are your plans for scaling and growth? Before you consider outsourcing IT functions you need to have a thorough strategic plan laid out so you can understand where an outside vendor could provide support. If you simply start trying to outsource an IT function without considering your longer term plans, you run the risk of engaging a vendor that is not aligned with your strategic vision.
  2. Some IT functions can’t be easily outsourced. Some IT functions lend themselves naturally to outsourcing. Project management support, help desk support, etc. But other functions don’t fit so naturally with outsourcing. If you are considering outsourcing, it’s important to fully evaluate the ease with which you might be able to outsource the function, as well as whether you will easily realize benefits by outsourcing that particular function.
  3. Employee morale may drop. If you plan to cut current staff to accommodate a transition to outsourced tech support, you need to be prepared for decreased morale amongst remaining staff. Lay-offs are never easy, especially if cuts are occurring purely to save costs by outsourcing certain functions.
  4. You run the risk of “getting stuck”. One of the things we emphasize at Providge is documentation and training. We do this because, consultants, and consulting companies, by nature are a finite resource. Eventually, we will leave. The project will wrap up, or the additional support will no longer be needed. If the efforts undertaken by your consulting team during their engagement are not well documented, and/or no training has taken place with your team  you may find you have to continue to to unnecessarily rely upon your vendor. No documentation? No training? Get used to the extra bodies in the office.

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, Business Development, Marketing & Sales Vice Chair Jenny Couch of member company Providge Consulting gives advice on investing in an ERP platform, one of the most critical decisions your business will make.


Investing in an ERP platform is one of the most critical decisions your business will make. Implementations can take years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete. Critical business functions will likely be supported by this platform for many years to come. You’ll need to train, or hire resources who can support the platform. So it’s critical that you select a system that best fits your business’s needs. But, with so many options available on the market today, it can be challenging to narrow down the field and select the right ERP solution for your business.

By considering some of the factors below during your evaluation, you will increase the likelihood that you and your team will select the right ERP platform for your company.

  • Cloud or internal architecture ERP. The cloud is hot right now, but it may not be the right solution for you. Consider factors such as control, down-time, access, and customization needs when determining whether to select a cloud or internal architecture ERP system.
  • Company size. Some ERP applications are better suited to large companies, and some are a better fit for small to mid-sized companies. If available, review the companies currently using the platforms you are considering. Are those companies a similar size, or drastically larger or smaller? Look for platforms with companies that are a similar size to increase the likelihood that you’ll select a platform designed for your business.
  • In-house ERP skill sets. Review the ERP skill sets you already have on your team. Is the majority of your staff familiar with PeopleSoft, but never heard of Workday? Then you may want to consider the time and cost that can be saved in training by selecting a platform with which your team is already familiar.
  • Criticality of the back-office function. For some companies, any hiccup, no matter how small, within the back-office system is disastrous. If the ERP system will be a critical component of your business that cannot have downtime, then you may not want to rely on vendors to provide support when you experience issues or downtime. Look for platforms where your team has full control and maintains responsibility for resolving issues.
  • Number of system users. The higher the number of users requiring access to your ERP platform, the more important it is to have a user-friendly interface. Such a requirement can often increase costs, either by limiting the pool of available COTS products, or by increasing the need for ongoing changes to the platform to meet your users’ needs.
  • Customization and interface needs. Certain industries, such as higher education, or government/military users, often have unique requirements that “standard” companies lack. COTS systems are designed to meet the greatest number of companies’ needs, so if you have highly complex, or unique back-office processes, you will need to select an ERP platform that can support a large number of customizations. For companies, or agencies needing a large number of customizations, cloud-based ERP solutions may not suit those needs. Similarly, if you have a large number of external systems that will need to interface with the ERP platform, make sure to account for this need in your evaluation criteria as not all ERP platforms are structured to support a significant number of interfaces.
  • Exit Plans. While you may feel certain that you’ll stay on your chosen ERP platform for years, it’s important to have an exit strategy. Surprises happen all the time, and they aren’t always of the confetti-throwing, present-giving variety. A software vendor could go out of business. An implementation could turn disastrous. Unforeseen issues can be uncovered with the platform. It’s important to prepare for the unexpected by developing an exit strategy. If you chose a cloud-based ERP, how easily and quickly can move off of that product. What will happen to all of your data, including any archived data? Is there an option to have your data stored for a certain time frame after you’ve moved off the platform? What data extraction and migration tools are available?  Can your data easily be moved to another platform?
  • Data privacy rules and regulations. While not a concern for many companies, for companies operating globally, this could be a critical consideration. Certain countries require that all employee data be hosted locally within that particular country. While some vendors, including cloud-based ones, have developed a solution to address this issue, some vendors are still playing catch-up.

Not sure how to select an ERP system that will meet your organization’s needs? Contact us and we’ll help narrow the overwhelming field of options, and select a system that best fits your business’s needs.

 


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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5 Effective Platforms for Managing Your Project

October 6th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs | Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

This week on NVTC’s Blog, member company Providge Consulting’s Jenny Couch introduces five project management platforms that make managing your team and tasks easier for any project.


You’ve just been assigned as the lead for a new project. It’s a great opportunity for your career. You finally have a chance to demonstrate your ability to manage a team. But first, you have to figure out how you’re going to, well, manage a team and their tasks.

But fear not, there are a wide range of project management platforms that make managing your team and tasks easier for any project.

The list below is just a handful of the platforms available. I selected the five below for a few reasons: I have personally used them to manage a project; they represent the wide range of options available on the market; and all 5 – AsanaBasecampMicrosoft ProjectEvernoteInsightly – improve project transparency and collaboration. Make sure to research your options as one of these other platforms might be a better fit for you.

 

ASANA

Best For: Teams that want a straight forward way to track project tasks, and monitor progress. You’re the type of person that doesn’t want all the fancy ‘bells and whistles.’ You want to know what’s due when, and who is involved. You also likely love making to-do lists as the interface feels akin to an old-school, paper-based to-do list.

Snip20150810_8

 

Key Features: I personally enjoy Asana’s interface, and focus on a few core features. It prevents you from feeling overwhelmed. Or, like your platform isn’t helping you to do the one thing you want it to do – manage a project – because it’s too complicated to use. It does take a little time to get used to some of the options – like commenting on tasks, etc. but once you have the hang of it, it’s easy to use. The activity feed bears a similarity to Facebook (unsurprising as it was created by a Facebook co-founder), which makes it easy to start using. Project permissions are also a great feature, allowing you to limit who has access to each project.

Pricing: Free for the basic package. If you want to upgrade to premium, prices start at $21 per month for 5 users, up $750 per month for 100 users.

Integrations: Dropbox, HipChat, Slack, Harvest, WordPress, GitHub, GoogleDrive

 

BASECAMP

Best For: Are you looking for a simple, aesthetically pleasing tool, that still offers a solid range of features without overwhelming you? Then Basecamp is a great choice. It’s important to note though that Basecamp, while providing some excellent features, doesn’t provide everything you might need to effectively manage your project. A wide-range of separate services exist that integrate with Basecamp, but it will get expensive quickly.

Key Features: Although we didn’t have to use, the support from Basecamp is supposed to be excellent. You can easily customize your project view (list, snapshot, snapshot w/summary); and you have the ability to display projects in all sorts of formats: calendar view, open tasks, project progress. It’s also easy to view everything currently assigned to you in one place – just click the “Me” button in the header. The view “Everything” option is helpful too, as you can view things like “Browse Every Discussion” or “Read All Text Documents” with one click.

BaseCamp Everything

Pricing: 60 days of unlimited use for free. Prices range from $20 per month for 10 active projects, with 3GB, and unlimited users, to their Unlimited package which costs $3,000 per year.

Integrations: Harvest, Cyfe, cloudHQ, LucidMeetings, and many others.

 

MICROSOFT PROJECT

Best For: Projects with strict timelines, loads of dependencies and buckets of cross functional interaction. You should also have experience using Microsoft Project previously. It’s a wonderfully robust tool, that can do amazing things, but it’s very easy to start abusing the tool’s features if you don’t have experience using the platform.

Snip20150811_22

Key Features: Where to even start? The Gantt charts, which visualizes your project timeline, can help you determine at what points your team members are over-extended. The ability to create dashboards on project progress is extraordinarily helpful if you will frequently be presenting to project status updates to leadership or executive teams. The templates Microsoft Project offers may decrease the time you might otherwise spend building out the structure of your project.

Pricing: The pricing for Microsoft Project varies wildly depending on how you want to access it and how robust you want the features to be. It ranges from $7 per user per month, to a one-time $1,159 bill.

Integrations: Skype and Sharepoint depending on the package you select.

 

EVERNOTE:

Best For: Projects without hard deadlines, and lots of dependencies. It’s a great platform for creative-driven projects where you might be constantly snapping photos of concepts or potential ideas to review later. It’s also a great platform if you frequently need to brain-dump as it’s search capabilities are marvelously powerful (search by tags, notes, notebooks, keywords, etc.). But if you need to stick to hard deadlines, and have a rigid task process, Evernote is not going to cut it.

Key Features: Evernote doesn’t immediately come to mind when considering potential project management platforms, but that’s only because we’ve underestimated just how powerful Evernote can be for the right type of project. You can share notebooks with your teammates, use Evernote’s chat feature, set reminders, and tag your notes to make searching easy. If you’re constantly on the go make sure to take advantage of Evernote’s new auto-capture feature for all sorts of documents (whiteboards, post-it notes, pages, etc.), and its voice capabilities. And they recently launched their new web clipper tool, allowing you to easily save anything you find interesting on the web.

Snip20150810_15

(source Mac Update)

Pricing: Free for the basic package. The Premium package is $49.99 a year, but features a number of worthwhile features such as offline access, the ability to annotate PDF attachments, and unlimited uploads.

Integrations: So. Many. Options. RedBooth and SmartSheet (two other project management platforms not covered in this post). Expensify (save and manage your expense reports – amazing!), CollabSpot, EasilyDo, Pocket and so many others.

 

INSIGHTLY

Best For: Smaller teams and projects with a limited number of dependencies. Also, fans of Google Apps. Insightly plays well with the entire Google Suite. You will likely need to invest some time up front in customizing Insightly to suit your project needs – I wouldn’t recommend using this platform, unless you plan to also use the CRM platform (see the note on pricing), so this platform may be best suited to marketing or sales teams.

Key Features: The ability to customize the project form with your own fields to meet your needs. Similarly, you can create project pipelines and stages which is useful for projects that have similar steps. The linking feature is another helpful component, allowing you to link any project to a contact, company, or opportunity.

Insightly New Project

Pricing: You can’t access the Project function as a stand-alone, as it’s part of Insightly’s larger CRM platform. That said, the pricing for the entire platform is very reasonable. Insightly offers multiple packages, from the Basic package which is free, to an Enterprise level offering running $99 per user, per month.

Integrations: MailChimp, Quickbooks, Google Apps, Dropbox, Box, EverNote and many others.


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, Marlise Streitmatter, an LMI Human Capital senior consultant, suggests looking beyond cost cutting to make sure that virtual collaboration is being utilized correctly.


lmiOrganizations are increasingly deploying virtual collaboration tools, but are they doing it effectively? To gain the most from these investments, it’s essential to look beyond cost cutting and develop strategies that maximize virtual collaboration’s many benefits.

Efficiency

As people across the organization gain instant access to each other, regardless of geography or job title, collaborating virtually reduces the amount of time and effort needed to perform tasks and answer questions. Research shows that when Alcoa made compliance oversight virtual, it reduced time spent on that function by 61 percent.

In another example, a Ford executive developing a new social media tool used an internal collaborative platform to seek input. His request reached the entire company, and an ambitious employee at a remote site developed a solution over the weekend. No time or money was wasted with procurement, contracting, or longer-paced development.

Accelerated Learning

Virtual collaboration reduces barriers to learning, allowing organizations to become self-teaching. Often, organizational learning is top down. Virtual collaboration facilitates a democratization of learning as employees share knowledge and information across silos. At Ford, employees on the production line use virtual collaboration to share processes and best practices, allowing employees at other plants to learn new skills on the spot without having to travel.

Productivity

Research reveals connected employees are engaged employees. Collaborating virtually facilitates relationship building by overcoming geographic and organizational boundaries, ultimately driving engagement and productivity. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) engages more than 500 senior executives across the country on agency-wide initiatives through virtual executive summits. Leaders connect, pose questions, share ideas, and interact with senior leadership, saving the agency $750,000 in travel costs.

Reduced Costs

Probably the best understood benefit of working virtually is cost reduction. Well-executed virtual collaboration correlates with reduced travel and facilities costs, as noted in the NASA example above. Research shows organizations lower costs by an average of 15 to 20 percent as collaboration matures.

But it’s not only organizations that benefit, employees save money too. Commuting costs, lunch expenses, clothing, and cleaning expenditures all lower for employees working in virtual environments. There’s also a reduction in social costs—the chance of accident and illness are lower. Employee health improves, stress levels drop, and the workforce is happier.

Many organizations use virtual collaboration simply to cut costs. Before choosing specific virtual solutions, it is wise to explore not only how virtual collaboration will help you slim down your budget, but also how working virtually increases your organization’s efficiency, learning, and productivity.


Marlise Streitmatter works in the Organizational and Human Capital Solutions Group at LMI. Previously, Streitmatter was the deputy chief of staff at the U.S Department of Transportation. She has a bachelors in international policy and administration from the University of Illinois Springfield.

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