Few CIOs know how to choose consultants, what to ask for and what to do with the results. […]
In the professional life of most CIOs, there comes a day when they have to involve consultants – but not contractors. The latter are people with certain skills that are designed to support them in everyday tasks. In the case of consultants, I’m talking about someone who has broad expertise and experience–based judgment – and whom you pay for good advice. After spending some time on both sides of the relationship between CIOs and consultants, I can safely say that not many CIOs really know how best to work with consultants.
The mistakes of CIOs in dealing with consultants can be divided into three large fields: what they would like to get, how to choose a consulting partner and what to do with the advice of their consultant.
Some consultants do not wait until they have collected sound information about the situation of their client. As a rule, you know what you are going to recommend even before the start of the job. A warning sign: you often use the phrase “best practice”. Their general schedule resembles a search for ammunition, not the pursuit of enlightenment. Other consultants, which should be avoided at all costs, promise the delivery of “measurable improvements”. Careless CIOs pounce on this offer without wondering who decides which metrics should actually be improved.
For example, a company I worked with hired a process improvement consultant. This reduced the cycle time of an important process by more than 80 percent. This was undoubtedly an excellent result, the track record of which was clouded only by a tiny number: the changes that reduced the cycle time also affected throughput – by about 75 percent.
And since the reduction in throughput time mainly affected employees with low personnel costs, while the falling throughput affected highly paid specialists, the bottom line was that the optimization increased unit costs by four times. That was a very expensive, measurable improvement.
The next group of advisers to avoid are those who promise to “discover” low-hanging fruit. I guarantee you: if these are low-hanging fruits, then every employee who is near the orchard has already identified them, recommended a course of action, and his recommendation was rejected a long time ago.
This is how the collection of low-hanging fruits by consultants works: 1. The consultant asks employees what needs to be done; 2. Employees share their knowledge; 3. The consultant copies their ideas and inserts them into the management presentation. As you might guess, this procedure is not exactly conducive to the morale of employees.
There is also the group of mistakes that CIOs make when screening potential consulting alternatives. Some IT managers already know the “right” answer, and they know what the consultant should recommend to them. You may not even be aware that this is exactly what you want, but you still ask for it.
A common example is: “Can you help us create a business case for X?” Consultants who want a follow-up order know perfectly well that it is counterproductive if they tell the customer: “The idea X does not make sense from a business point of view.“
If you already know the correct answer and you just need someone to confidently and convincingly present it at the final presentation, you should consider hiring a professional consultant-actor. In addition, these cost less than real IT consultants, and you can be sure that you will stick to the script.
Another bad practice when selecting consultants: CIOs are vague when it comes to where the target is, but unambiguous when it comes to how consultants should select an arrow, put it on, line up, pull back the bowstring, aim and fire the shot.
Every consultant worth hiring has a method that works. If she does not suit you, choose another consultant. Otherwise, you should be aware of what success looks like when working together, and give the consultant the necessary leeway to achieve this goal.
Another popular mistake is the question of how many clients the consulting company has already provided the desired service for. This key figure is not important – on the other hand, it counts how many members of the envisaged project team have already carried out such projects.
And by the way: sometimes the answer should be “none”. At least that’s the right answer if you want something really innovative. However, it is not innovative when many other companies have already done it, no matter what it is.
Another qualification: require that at least one member of the project team has spent part of his career in IT management. Although this perspective should not dominate the team dynamics, it gives you the certainty that the recommendations of the consultants also take into account the challenges that you face every day as a CIO.
As a rule, a consulting assignment is about drawing up an action plan for solving a problem or tracking an opportunity that arises. Far too often, CIOs go this route, even though they know full well that they will never convince top management to finance the action plan. The recommendations of the consultant will then be superfluous even before the start of the assignment.
Smart CIOs will receive a commitment that the program defined in the action plan of the consulting project will be budgeted if they have embedded the request in reasonable basic assumptions.
Therefore, smart CIOs insist that the results of the consulting project contain the program, initiative and / or project descriptions that are needed for the implementation of the action plan. So you just made your consultant an expert in what you wanted to do. Take advantage of this expertise as much as possible.
This article is based on a contribution from our sister publication cio.com
*Bob Lewis is a management and IT consultant at a large global IT services company. The ideas and opinions expressed in this column are exclusively his own.