Monday, April 18, 2011

7 dirty consultant tricks (and how we avoid them)

InfoWorld has an interesting article titled
7 dirty consultant tricks (and how to avoid them)

As someone who does consulting work fairly often, I thought it would be useful to discuss them using AKSEL as an example.

Dirty consultant trick No. 1: Bidding low, billing high

As noted in the article,
"Most consulting firms know at the time they place their bid that the scope is too small for the results the clients want," he says. "But if they put in a bid to cover an expanded scope, they will lose."

I always like to identify why there might be overages. While I don't mind fixed-bid projects, if the requirements are up to debate (as they usually are), I think it's in the best interest of the client to look at per-diems but with a cap (as discussed below). Companies that charge MORE once they've won a bid (to simply analyze their requirements) can easily be accused of cheating their clients. Would you want to be cheated that way?

We once had our floors done by a company who looked at the floor and said "about $1600 labour based on x/day". By the end of the project, it was over $3400 because they didn't account for it right. This was a per-diem project and I should have thought first to put a cap on it. At the end, they still tried to weasel out of finishing the work and left us with a half-ass job. I'm all in favor of per diem work provided you can do the job.

Dirty consultant trick No. 2: Bringing in the B team
No question here - definitely a dirty trick and something that is easy to avoid. The recommendation is spot on
"Normally, just requesting to meet the proposed team will disqualify some vendors due to their inability to present them to you."
- but even at the end, when requirements are subject to change, that team may not be up to the job. Another good approach is to meet with the consulting firm regularly to re-evaluate the team provided.

Keep in mind that there can often be some treasures to be found in B-Team. Just because the original proposed team had the most amazing certifications and the new team doesn't, isn't a sign that they don't have anything to offer. Best thing to do is MEET with the actual team who will be doing the work.

Dirty consultant trick No. 3: Stall tactics

Of all the work consultants do, this is one of the practices that no one should put up with. It always depends on the project, to be sure - but no consultant with any degree of integrity should do this. ..."consulting team schedules endless meetings" - consultants shouldn't be making the meetings - they should be focused on making them as productive and decisive as possible. I often look at my work as a consultant as being similar to a good plumber: if you want me to fix a problem, I'll do it as quickly as possible so I can move onto the next problem. If you want me to re-design your plumbing system, it will take longer but I'll do it right. You don't need me billing you per hour while I ask you what faucet you would like to use.

Some clients can be difficult to work with, requesting free work and time - and that can become a challenge but if you treat your clients with the same integrity as you want to be treated, in the end, it will be a great result for everyone involved.

Dirty consultant trick No. 4: Taking hostages

If you come across this or as a consultant, you like to do this, simply put, you should be fired. And if you have dealt with someone like this, make it known that they are this type of consultant.

Dirty consultant trick No. 5: Kickbacks and double-dipping
Consultants are paid for their knowledge and their relationships with products and vendors but it's always useful to know if they are getting a cut if you do choose that option. I work with a lot of tools: some cost money; others don't. One thing I think is horrendous is to charge the customer MORE for the product because you bought it for them. There's a difference between buying the product and then the work involved in putting it into production - make the client aware of it. On a per-diem job, consultants are paid for by their time. If you are recommending a solution, those cost-savings better include what you do for that client. As a vendor myself (I have a financial stake in Foxfire! a query and reporting tool), it can be tricky. Whenever a reporting product recommendation is requested, I offer basic features and then immediately point out my position and why I will not make the final decision. If the client chooses the final product on their own, they have a stake in its success.

The comment in the article notes that you should ask for competitive bids. Depending on the solution, go right to the source and find out what it would cost for you to purchase it completely on your own. If you think your consultant is scalping you, then BUY the product yourself and then ask the consultant to do the work ("hey, we already have that tool you mentioned").

Dirty consultant trick No. 6: Selling you the latest and greatest

One of my clients wanted development mentoring for their internal system that they had designed from the ground up. This was an ISO 9000 company and they always had stellar reviews. They had another company come in that was using SAP who were stunned by the productivity they were achieving with their OWN system. Sometimes you don't need the latest or the big expensive solution - you need what works. A consultant should have lots of tricks in their bags, regardless of the solution. I built a simpler framework for WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) when it was obvious that the client's staff would never be able to get up to speed with PRISM in the time needed. PRISM is powerful and great - but it's guidance and practices only. If you have your own development staff and hire consultants, then part of the role of the consultant is to TRAIN that development staff to take over that work when they are done. If the latest and greatest means brand new staff training, you should be aware of it. As the article notes:

"With the current speed of technical innovation, most 'customized' solutions are outdated the time they are implemented anyway."

The same is true with specifications. If you start with a list of 100 features that you absolutely have to have in your solution, consider trimming it down to the most important. Chances are, by the time you get to your 50th feature, other priorities will be appearing.

Dirty consultant trick No. 7: Empty suits and vampires

This kind of sounds like sending in the "b-team". Empty suits and vampires refers to consultants who cannot deliver the solution whether on purpose or by accident. The recommendation in the article should be obvious to anyone who is even considering work on a project:

"A measurable result by a specific date can be used as a stake in the ground to provide an anchor for the project,"

If you aren't starting your project with a measurable result by a specific date, then you need to break your project INTO those results first.

AKSEL can help. Contact us at 613-851-4496.