Dark secret of consulting

If you’re involved in a major implementation with an external firm, you may have encountered a less than satisfactory experience, to put it mildly. There are certain tactics that consulting firms employ, and it’s important to be aware of them and ready to respond effectively. For instance, consulting firms are notorious for inflating the hours quoted, especially in time and material contracts. Once the project begins, you’ll notice a multitude of individuals attending your meetings, and all those resource hours will be charged to you, the customer. Be cautious of roles mentioned in the contract such as client relationship director or practice head. Unless they are technical consultants, investing your budget in them would be wasteful.

It’s a well-known fact that around 70% of IT projects fail, and in order to increase the chances of success, a capable project manager is crucial. However, even with a competent project manager, success is not guaranteed. Consulting firms bear some responsibility for this, but it’s also worth noting that the organizations that hire these firms often have unclear visions of what will be built and what their expectations are until the project reaches a critical stage, typically closer to the testing phase, when “shit gets real”. At that point, it becomes apparent that requirements were not adequately addressed. Unfortunately, this is when consulting firms tend to create a sense of urgency, suggesting that the situation can be salvaged only if more time and money are provided. The key is not to give in and instead initiate a negotiation process to address past mistakes. This may involve heated discussions and arguments, but that’s alright. Aim to reach a point where the consulting firm feels defensive and consider escalating the matter to higher levels within their organization. Alternatively, if a senior executive in your company states that there is no additional budget, communicate this to the consulting firm and request that they absorb the additional costs. Chances are they will be more inclined to comply.

Depending on your personality, you might feel uncomfortable during such challenging situations. You want the project to succeed, but you also want to avoid conflicts. It’s perfectly understandable to feel this way. However, there will come a time when you must present your arguments to the consulting firm and be prepared for that moment. Gather relevant data and communicate with confidence, supported by the evidence at hand. Remember that, as the customer, you hold significant power, but it’s important not to abuse it. Be thoughtful and assertive in order to achieve your desired outcomes. As a future CIO, you will encounter many obstacles like these, and experiencing just one such situation will provide valuable insight on how to respond effectively.

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