Why Are We Here ? Part 1 – How to Ensure the Initial Dialogue between Client and Consultancy gets off to a Flying Start


An article by Neil Walker, Principal Consultant at Fox IT. ‘Why Are We Here? Part 1 – How to Ensure the Dialogue between Client and Consultancy gets off to a Flying Start’. This is part 1 of 2 articles about reinforcing the Client/Consultancy relationship.

 

Introduction

“Why are we here”? – The obvious explained

This is an important question that isn’t asked at the beginning of the planning journey.

In this article and the following Part 2 (subtitled “Why am I here”?) I provide advice on initial consultancy dialogue for both those thinking of using third parties and for consultants who need to quickly get under the skin of the organisation they hope to work with.


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Why are you here?

For this first article I am taking the stance of someone who has decided to bring in (or is thinking of bringing in) outside help to solve a problem; so maybe the subtitle could also read “Why am I doing this”? My choice of words will become clear as you read on.

As an ITSM consultant I enjoy what I do. I get to work in partnership with a variety of people and help to address the interesting business challenges faced by organisations across multiple business sectors. I get a lot of satisfaction when looking back at the end of an engagement and seeing the improvements made, and the knowledge and skills I’ve shared.

However, when invited to talk to prospective clients I am still surprised by their lack of preparedness or vagueness about what they require from me.

So, how can we ensure the initial dialogue between client and consultant gets off to a flying start?

Firstly, to prepare for the consultancy brief, here are a simple set of questions that need answers ready to share with the consultant:

  1. What are the overall drivers or underlying issues within our organisation? Typical, focus areas include:
    • Business strategy
    • Customer dissatisfaction
    • Cost management
    • Regulatory compliance
    • Poor service quality
    • Supplier relationships
    • The 3 Es (Economics, Efficiency, Effectiveness)
  2. How would we summarise the current situation?
  3. What skills and experience are we looking for?
  4. What deliverables do we expect and what does the end result look like, e.g.
    • a report
    • transition to a future mode of operation (FMO)
    • a rise in process maturity level
    • achievement of an International Standard (e.g. ISO/IEC 20000)
    • skills transfer/self sufficiency
  5. Do we want the consultancy to lead, guide, train, produce tangible outcomes or a combination of these?
  6. Who else will be involved (internally or externally), what is their role and what is their ITSM capability level?
  7. What budget do we have?
  8. What are the timescales and are there any deadlines or milestones along the way?
  9. What are the likely barriers to success? – Remember, to achieve the desired outcomes you need to be honest with yourself and the consultant!

Sure, beyond the initial briefing there will be more formal recording mechanisms for establishing exactly what will be delivered and the approach to be taken, examples being a Proposal, Statement of Work, Project Scope, and Project Initiation documentation (PID) but regardless of format chosen they all benefit from early, well prepared and well-defined exchanges of information.

Next there are the underlying reasons for wanting the help of an ITSM consultancy, a selection being:

  • A low risk option – Effective use of a pool of knowledge from experts in their field who have done similar work on numerous occasions in similar scenarios
  • Time efficient – Where skills are not available internally and it would take too long to build them
  • Economical – Where the skills are only needed for the duration of a project and therefore it is not cost effective to employ or develop resources for the medium to long term
  • Project vs BAU – Internal resources cannot be spared from day-to-day operational duties and there is insufficient bandwidth to expand their responsibilities
  • Objectivity – An independent viewpoint is needed without the burden of company history, ties or culture, personal friendships and internal politics (i.e. no baggage!). This can also be used to evidence objective evaluation, recommendations and improvement to regulators and auditors (i.e. not marking your own homework!)
  • External leverage – To validate ideas, options or solutions that have already been explored or where an external viewpoint is needed to add weight to a course of action that has already been decided upon

I have also seen:

  • One-upmanship – Not so obvious and probably never stated publically as a reason, this is where organisation X wants to prove to their peers and/or competitors that it has the status and means to employ professional specialists. Also, depending on the objective, the ability to use the outcome to some advantage; e.g. bragging rights amongst competitors for a high maturity rating following an assessment

….and finally.

  • @r$e-covering! – Almost never confessed, is the use of third parties as agents of change to surreptitiously protect internal change architects by divorcing them from the recommendations made.
    • An example of this is where proposals could cause internal friction (e.g. organisational redesign, staff number reductions or role changes), so the change originators defend themselves by saying “it wasn’t our idea; it came from the external consultants”.
    • Another example of hiding behind third parties is when there is doubt in the outcome of a project. This could be due to a host of internal barriers such as lack of budget, resistance to change, personal agendas, lack of leadership and drive. In these scenarios the architects defend themselves by stating the consultancy’s lack of understanding, over ambitious recommendations, unworkable timelines, etc.

To achieve the best possible results from a consultant like me it is crucial to be truthful and explain clearly what is required. My response will invariably be that not only do I understand the situation but can probably demonstrate that it is shared by numerous others and explain what I can do about it. Remember, I am not there to sell anything so please, let’s save a lot of time and effort by getting straight to the underlying reason(s). By now my choice of the earlier subtitle “Why are you here” should be coming clearer!

This obviously may be easier if you have worked with the consultant or the consultancy before and a level of trust has already been established.

Summary

Whatever the reason for engaging service consultants, be honest at the outset. Have a clear objective of what you want to achieve, provide as much information as possible and answer questions truthfully.

Using a medical analogy it becomes clearer still. You wouldn’t go to a health consultant and not take the opportunity to explain fully every detail of your complaint because, quite naturally, you’d want the correct diagnosis and to receive the right treatment.

Only through having an open and honest relationship between client and consultant can the organisation hope to succeed in its objective and ensure that all parties exit with the surety that it was a worthwhile and rewarding exercise.

In Part Two – subtitled “Why am I here”? I will take the consultancy viewpoint and a closer look at the role in information gathering.

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