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enquiry

 
#1 enquiry
25/02/2007 11:03

potential client

As the Managing Director of what has now become a mid sized company, I have been advised to employ some strategy consultants to conduct an analysis of my organisation. When I was a Finance Director in a blue chip company, I used to despair at the concept of paying several thousand pounds per day per person so that a bunch of young graduates could sit in my company messing around with spreadsheets only to state the blindingly obvious a few weeks/months later. Have things improved or would I be better employing an older hand from the industry on a contract basis to conduct the assessment instead? Please note that I have contacts on both sides (strat consultants and industry veterans) so please do not attempt to pitch for work. I am interested in genuine observations to assist me in my decision making process on an anonymous basis

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#2 RE: enquiry
25/02/2007 11:10

... to potential client (#1)

just to add to the comment above, I am not trying to offend anyone, I simply remember how I felt about strat consultants when I was a client in mainstream industry and never thought I would see the day when I was seriously considering using them myself. I assume that these posts are anonymous and that you can, therefore, be honest. DO you ever leave a project and question whether the client got value for money or do you always believe that you have transformed the company's fortunes?!?

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#3 RE: enquiry
25/02/2007 11:36

bri500 to ... (#2)

I'd say most projects I do leave the client in better shape than before. There have been some failures, most often as the client didn't really know what they wanted us to do or didn't want to implement the results for whatever reason.

The spotty graduates fiddling with spreadsheets can still happen but to be honest, the biggest mistake I think people make when they buy consultancy is they buy the brand and not the people. Consultants will propose a team to you, all you simply have to do is to insist that the people whose CVs are put in front of you are the people who operate the assignment. Unfortunately the biggest game consultants play when pitching is putting forward experts for a job who they know will not be available, plus often their track record is taken from anywhere around their company and not always based on the person pitching to you. Insist that you have relevant track record of all consultants in your ITT.

When it comes to deciding which consultancy, pick the best team and not. They'll try to negotiate saying they need a get out clause should people not be available, but insist that you have the right to cancel any contract should key people not be available (note: also be very clear on who will operate day-to-day and who will be the "experts" who parachute in for senior meetings ).

You do seem very sceptical of consultants but ultimately your satisfaction from us comes from buying smartly and then cooperating as much as you can with the people you've chosen.

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#4 RE: enquiry
25/02/2007 11:54

anon to ... (#2)

Are strat consultants all "a bunch of young graduates"? Surely there are older, experienced strat consultants around who could give you the best of both worlds?

Anyway, if you already have specific contacts for doing the work, isn't getting a better idea of THEIR quality, as individuals, the most useful next step rather than relying on generalities from anonymous people on this forum?

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#5 RE: enquiry
25/02/2007 13:42

anon poster to anon (#4)

obviously touched a nerve there Anon... sorry. As you can tell by the post, I am not 100% comfortable with the options in front of me. A very good point made by the first respondent. You describe exactly what happened to me when I found myself paying through the nose for bright enough kids but people with significantly less knowledge than the junior managers in our organisation. I would have been better to give the projects to our own graduate intake who were often just as talented as the consultants we hired and they had a lot less attitude! This was a long time ago, though, so I am hoping and expecting that things have changed. I hope to get some interesting commentary tomorrow when people are back in work.

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#6 RE: enquiry
25/02/2007 14:16

anon to anon poster (#5)

No worries. No nerves touched - not a strat consultant.

Well, good luck, old boy! Cheerio!

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#7 RE: enquiry
25/02/2007 17:58

anon to anon (#6)

I think you should do what your superiors have told you to do because obviously you do not have neither the brains nor experience to make a simple decision let alone work efficiently on the project. To my opinion, someone at your level should not only know how to chose and when but also how to work effectively with the people chosen. Consultancy firms can work no wonders for you while you sit back and comment on their work. It is a collaborative process.

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#8 RE: enquiry
26/02/2007 05:22

thread poster to anon (#7)

If I hire a consultancy firm, I will hire someone who can write English...

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#9 RE: enquiry
26/02/2007 08:24

Tony Restell (Top-Consultant.com) to potential client (#1)

I'd say it's important to have a good mix of seniority on your project. It's absolutely critical that you have more senior people on the project team who understand your industry or the challenge you face in great detail - and these are the ones you ultimately take advice from (and would feel comfortable taking advice from).

However these types are likely to cost you north of £2,000 per day - so they are not the people you want doing the day-to-day research and number crunching that backs up the consulting firm's recommendations. For this part of the work you should welcome with open arms the "young graduates" that have been assigned to do the Excel-crunching, provided they are competent. You want as much of the hard grind of the project to be done by those being billed at £800 - £1,200 and then only pay the higher fees for the work / insights that really require it.

The key thing is to get this all agreed at the tender / contract stage. If your contract states that you are going to have this balance of consulting staff and the bill is correspondingly lower, great. The problem arises when the team members are not fixed at the point at which the contract is awarded. This is when resourcing issues and profit-seeking can result in you having a different profile of consulting team working on your assignment than you had initially envisaged. Otherwise known as being sold the A team and ending up with the B team. Get this nailed down at the outset and you should be well set to achieve a good return on your spend.

P.S. do you think there is a place for tenders to be made available to consulting firms via this site? There'd obviously need to be the right anonymity ensured, but would you generally welcome the chance to broaden the range of consulting firms on your radar?

Tony Restell (Top-Consultant.com)

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#10 RE: enquiry
27/02/2007 11:32

Anon to Tony Restell (Top-Consultant.com) (#9)

Tony,

Why does a consulting team have to be so heirarchical to be good? I've been in many situations where the young "crunchers" explain things to the project managers who explain things to the senior managers who explain things to the partners who then explain things to the client. It can be overly expensive and time-consuming and often runs the risk of mis-understanding and mis-communication (particularly when selling-on becomes the focus). My advice to the original poster would be to look for a small team of more senior consultants who are capable and not too proud of getting stuck in to do whatever's necessary. By the way, I've worked in consulting and industry and my views are the same from either perspective.

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#11 RE: enquiry
27/02/2007 11:56

Tony Restell (Top-Consultant.com) to Anon (#10)

There may be specific assignments where this view is correct Anon. Get a team made up purely of highly experienced consultants. But in my experience of strategy assignments, there is tons of grunt work that you want to be being done at rates that aren't as high as these senior billers would charge.

Say a strategy assignment requires that telephone interviews be conducted with several dozen firms, or research be conducted about dozens of potential target acquisitions. This adds up to weeks of work and can very often be done just as well by a junior on £800 per day as a senior on £2,000. It's the assessment of the findings of this research that requires an industry expert and high fee rates, but the grunt work itself doesn't require a Harvard MBA and so the client shouldn't end up paying for one.

The largest firms are taking this logic one step further now and can even put analysts based in India / China / etc. onto a project so that the junior portion of the bill shrinks further still and clients get more bang for their buck. Obviously not right for all assignments, but hierarchy often brings savings for the client that a flat team structure can't offer.

Tony Restell (Top-Consultant.com)

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#12 RE: enquiry
27/02/2007 15:38

slidedeck3000 to Tony Restell (Top-Consultant.com) (#11)

I think the original poster's point related to the fact that he resents paying the junior staff a grand a day to do things that inhouse people can do. With respect to many consultancy firms, the analysis phase is often about "how many slides can we generate about every topic" which often just represents 300 slides of what the organisation knows already, maybe a half dozen of them count as "new" insights. They're perfectly entitled to miss big chunks of this phase out with more focused input from experts.

What would also annoy me is that the broad "strategy" is often formulated in the first week or two between the consultant team, they then take 2-3 months to simply provide as much data as they can to back up the story they want to tell. Open and frank discussions with experts can often save a lot of time and money.

I appreciate both approaches have their merits and Tony's probably trying to highlight that, but clients should be aware they don't have to buy the full strategy audit that's always proposed unless it really is needed.

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#13 RE: enquiry
26/02/2008 16:32

Mark Harvey to slidedeck3000 (#12)

Everything is about value for money in the current day.

So the only way to measure if you have had value for money is to know what you want to buy!

I agree with some of the writers, getting your Client to a point that you have clearly defined what is "being bought" is a skill. But the most valuable additional resources (be it old-timers or flocks of graduates) will help the Client define this at step 1 (even the strat stuff can be defined). I recommend formal project management methodologies with a sign-off of the PID/Project Charter.......I have seen how misunderstandings at this point lead to concerns later over the real issue "was that process value for money?"

Hope this helps..... Mark

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