Deliverables are expected. Timetables are critical. Experienced staff is essential. But do you need the experienced staff 100% of the time, or can a consultant fill a short-term manpower gap?
Consultant: Many of us picture expensive suits and briefcases, lots of talk, and very little action.
Does it have to be that way?
Based on more than forty years of experience in the computer industry, from creating custom reporting software to custom home builder software
here are five proven steps you can follow to be sure your consultant meets your expectations.
I. Understand the Need for a Consultant
Make sure you understand what you want your consultant to do BEFORE you begin interviewing candidates. Ask yourself these questions:
- What – specifically – is the business need you’re trying to satisfy? For example, I need a way to track the results for each salesperson throughout the month. The process should allow me to create progress reports throughout the month, as well as charts and graphs showing each salesperson’s results and a summary for the company.
- When do I need it? Be realistic in answering this. You might like to have the solution in place tomorrow; however, you may know that you won’t have the ability to get people trained to use the new system until six months out. Determine a realistic timeline based on your business needs.
- Do I have an employee with the skills for the job?
- Is the employee available to complete the job professionally and on time?
- If the employee does the job, will something else suffer? If you answer “No” to questions three or four, or “Yes” to question five, you may need a consultant. If so, ask the next two questions.
- Is the product worth the cost?
- Is the value of the task greater than the cost of the consultant?
If you answer Yes to questions six and seven, start looking for a qualified consultant.
Virtual CIO Service Packages
DragonPoint offers personalized coaching for senior management interested in achieving cost effective solutions through the use of technology. These packages give CEO’s an experienced CIO without adding a permanent employee.
- How CEO’s use the Virtual CIO:
- Straight talk in business terms, not technology jargon, about the pros and cons of technology challenges.
- Participate in senior staff meetings.
- Independent analysis of the cost effectiveness and business value of investments in new computer software or hardware.
- Recommendations on ways to integrate business and technology to maximize productivity.
- Insight into critical shortcomings of established technology solutions.
- Packages vary according to the amount of consultation time you may need. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for package details.
II. Find a Qualified Consultant
If you are looking for a CPA, lawyer, or building contractor, you can limit your search to licensed professionals. However, in many fields such as computer software development, it is difficult to determine whether a company or individual is qualified to meet your requirements. Ask these questions to help identify the best consultant for your project:
- How long has your company been in business?
- May I see samples of your work?
- May I contact some of your satisfied customers?
If the company or individual can’t answer the questions to your satisfaction, keep looking.
III. Define Your Goals
During the initial interview, provide the consultant with a written statement of the measurable goal(s) to be accomplished. Quantify your expectations using dates, percentages, and other metrics. Being as specific as possible improves the probability that the consultant’s estimate for services will be accurate. It also increases your chance of getting the results you want. Don’t assume that because the consultant is an “expert,” she can tell you what you need. Some consultants have a “canned” solution they attempt to apply to every situation. Beware of a consultant who arrives with a solution in hand!
The consultant should do more listening than talking in the initial interview. You want a consultant who will understand your business and apply her expertise to achieving your business goals. Keep looking if the consultant’s approach is to shape your business into a package that is familiar to her, which makes it easy to apply previous solutions to your unique opportunities.
IV. Clearly Define Roles
Bringing in an outsider is a big change for many companies, and it may make your current staff anxious. To maximize cooperation between your staff and the consultant, while minimizing the anxiety associated with the fear of change, tell your staff why you hired the consultant. Explain the project plans and goals, and communicate with your staff regarding any impact the consultant’s work may have on their positions.
Consider using the following techniques to make the consultant a part of your team:
- Team trusted staff members with the consultant for the life of the project.
- Take the consultant and members of your staff to a working lunch.
- Have members of your staff involved in status meetings with the consultant.
These steps reduce staff anxiety and improve the productivity of your consultant.
V. Use Milestones to Track the Project
Don’t wait until the end to check the consultant’s progress. Establish measurable, concrete intermediate deliverables to allow you to monitor and measure ongoing progress.
For example, in a software project, the initial deliverable should be a clear scope of work, and this may take one to two weeks, depending on the size of the project. The next deliverable may be a set of prototype screens, which may require an additional two to three weeks.
Interim deliverables allow you to quickly determine whether your consultant is on track for completing your project on time and within budget.
Use these five steps to ensure that your consultant delivers what you need to meet your business objectives. This creates a win-win – you get what you pay for, and your consultant gets another satisfied customer.