What characteristics set a good consulting firm apart from a not so good consulting firm?
After decades of running successful consulting ERP practices, here is a basic list of what I would advise clients look for when making a selection...
There's an old saying ... "I just wanted to know what time it was, not buy the watch."
Have you ever had an experience where an ERP consultant simply regurgitates back to you, exactly what you just said to them? They might add a few "buzz words" for good measure and to impress, but this is what we in the consulting world refer to as "consultant speak." When this occurs, it's misleading and clients not only get confused, but also become disillusioned. Unfortunately, because clients often "don't know, what they don't know," consultants will use this tactic to avoid talking about realistic expectations during an implementation or simply to avoid talking about something they're not quite sure about (as opposed to being forthcoming about needing time to research for a solution driven answer to the client's concern).
So, what sets a good consulting firm apart from a not so good consulting firm? In my opinion, first and foremost it's "honesty." Without it, you'll never know where you really stand even after a consultant is gone. There are other characteristics you should avoid as well, and after decades of running successful ERP consulting practices, I've put together a basic list of what I would advise clients to look for when making a selection ...
- Highly experienced in both the software and the business side
- Solution oriented, efficient, and organized firm(s)
- Understand fully the client's bottom-line and time constraints and operates with a sense of urgency
- Highly accessible, responsive, and strongly committed to mutual success
- Understands that a client needs to be informed throughout the entire process, and has an understanding of how their new software works before exiting a project
- A tenured history of industry success and experience
These are just a few that immediately stand out to me and what clients "should" expect at the most base level. But, what separates the good consulting firms from the great ones are the finer people skills, and the finesse in which the client/consultant relationship is handled. A great consulting firm will offer up a "can-do" attitude, friendly demeanor, adaptability, creative & solution driven thinking, transparency, straight forward communication, the ability to effectively operate and lead at the "C level," and the ability to conduct group or one on one "end user" training, etc.
The great consulting firms have the ability to come in and seamlessly operate as trusted advisors... they naturally instill an unparalleled sense of confidence and assurance to what can be often times seen as an extremely challenging or stressful process.
Written by John S. Davidson
President, GlobalStar Consulting
When a provider leaves too soon, leaving you feeling overwhelmed, under-trained, and over budget-based on their inability to deliver on their commitment.
Pitfalls and common mistakes that less experienced, less knowledgeable industry providers may succumb to that take them over on time and over on budget.
It is hugely important to apply due diligence in choosing a consulting firm...
- Overpromise and underproduce: It is very common for less experienced consultants or consulting firms to get in over their heads regarding project timelines. They just haven't "been there, done that" to the extent that they know what efforts it will take. Or worse, they do know, but still low-ball estimates in order to win a client's business. On the contrary, this process should be informative, collaborative, and realistic, so that both parties come to the table with realistic goals and expectations.
- Don't execute ample discovery and planning prior to project kick-off: "Plan your work, work your plan" is a must. It's incredible how often firms cut foundational corners in the beginning of the process in order to save time—only for that cut corner to come back to haunt them (and the client) later. The true level of success is etched and better defined in the early stages of an undertaking. If this first piece of the process is underestimated or minimalized, it could result in substantial project overruns.
- Don't have highly experienced consultants: There are many bright individuals in the IT world, but to be considered highly experienced as a consultant, it goes well beyond product intelligence. Being able to see the bigger picture, applying best practices with a strong business acumen, and having a "can do/roll-up your sleeves" attitude is what separates the less effective contributors from what I consider a true "consultant." Consultants need to have the "soft" skills required, as well as superior product knowledge.
- Insert consultants into roles where they are not the right fit/not their skill set: It is not uncommon (especially among larger firms) to blend-in junior or less experienced consultants into a project team mix. You will also see ERP consultants with unrelated software experience inserted into Infor Lawson specific projects. Then you will have those who are "generalists" by nature, professing to be an expert in a given area. This is typically noticed fairly quickly, but many times not until the loss of time and money is sizable.
- Lack a commitment to customer service/success: If you look at the companies that tend to score the worst in customer feedback surveys, it's the ones that can't seem to figure out customer service. They talk about it a lot, and even have surveyors call you up later to garner a good grade from you, but at the end of the day, they fail horribly because, they don't seem to understand that 100% satisfaction is what their customers want and expect. As a service organization, it is paramount that people understand that customer satisfaction is everything. But, like most things, it starts at the top. As a business owner/leader, I have found that when you start by providing superior "servant management" to your people, they will naturally grasp the concept of serving your customer base. I would recommend when selecting a consulting firm, take a look at how their people interact with one another as part of the process. If they seem to know and like one another and operate seamlessly and ego-less, then I would say there is a higher probability that they will treat your organization with the respect it deserves, and inevitably raise the probability of a successful outcome.
- Consultants don't have an organization that supports them in the field: It's disheartening when you see consultants working in the field feeling like they are an island because of lack of support. Exceptional consulting firms are accessible and responsive to their people in the field, always. There should be an ongoing sense of urgency in relation to a firms people having the tools they need to look out for the client's well-being. It's shocking just how much time can be squandered while consultants and clients are waiting for issues to be resolved by their own company.
- Lack discipline in sticking to project plans: Often-times, it takes assuming the role of a "benevolent dictator" to keep projects on track. It is a rare set of skills when you have project managers that have the left brained detail skills, along with an endearing personality to bridge relationships on all levels. This atypical skill set is a highly valuable attribute and comes down to what style best fits within the uniqueness of a client's environment/culture. At the end of the day, it is crucial to a project's success for lead consultant/PMs to stay very disciplined in holding the team accountable and keeping efforts on track.
- Consultants don't have client buy-in/support at the highest level: A killer for projects occurs when a consulting company has neglected to shore-up confident buy-in at the highest level with clients in which they are working. It is a must to have a client champion who has the confidence, power, and authority to remove potential roadblocks in order to sustain project momentum. This is one of the more common dilemmas encountered and the oftentimes the root cause of unsuccessful/rudderless projects.
- Lack a sense of urgency and work ethic: I strongly believe that consultants need to inherently embody a strong work ethic and operate in a rather urgent manner. Not getting in a hurry, but at a pace that sets the pace. Coming-in they are considered the experts, so they should take initiative and lead by example. They also need to be proactive and inspect and set (and reset if needed) expectations in a very organized and authentic manner. Consultants that can operate this way are the what I would consider the best of the best.
When selecting a consulting firm, it’s important to apply due diligence. If the correct firm is chosen initially, a client will gain a higher return on their investment by not incurring extra costs from project overruns, delays, switching firms, etc. A consulting firm should work efficiently, practically, and seamlessly in conjunction with a customer’s team to make sure that when they exit, the customer feels whole and well versed in their new ERP system and its utilization.