How to get the best value from an ITSM consultant

Ring of hands on a sandy beach

I have worked for many organizations over the years, delivering consulting, training, writing and other services. While I am always determined to do the best I can for any client, I’ve found that I’m able to deliver much better value to some of the organizations that I work with than to others, and I’ve been thinking about why. I’ve written this blog to share my conclusions.

Here are four tips that will help you to get the best possible value next time you engage a consultant.

1.      Be very clear about what outcomes you want

It’s obvious that before you even talk to a consultant, you need to make sure you know what you want them to do for you. But it’s even more important to think about what will be different after they've finished, in other words to be clear about the outcomes you want. Ideally you should identify a measurement you can make before and after the consulting, that will show whether you achieved the improvement you were after.

I intentionally used the phrase “what outcomes you want”, because all too often people fail to differentiate between being clear about what they want and being sure they know the best way to get there.  So, they engage consultants and then tell them how to achieve the result. You will get far more value from the consultant’s expertise if you allow them to help define how the work will be done. What really matters is the result, not how you get there. For example, compare these two approaches to a change management improvement project:

  • Client A decides that they want to reduce the impact of failed IT changes on their customer’s business. It’s not too hard to measure this before and after the engagement and it’s clear what value this has. When I get involved as a consultant, I can help to understand why changes are failing, as well as why they have the business impact they do, and we can work together to plan a solution.
  • Client B asks me to design a new change management process, because their current process isn’t working well. This presupposes that the fix to their underlying issue is to design a new process. I can certainly help with this, but it might not be what they need. It’s also very difficult to measure success. We can certainly verify that they have a new process, but it’s not clear what else should be measured.

When you engage consultants do you define measurable outcomes, or do you tell them what work to do?

2.      Don’t let the consultant do all the work

I love working with clients that want to learn from me. The ideal consulting engagement is one where the client spends a lot of time working with me, so that we develop a solution to their situation together. When the consulting engagement ends, the client has new capabilities that we've developed jointly, and that they fully understand, and own, and can improve as they go forward.

Some clients expect me to design a solution for their issue and want me to present this as a big report that they can then implement. Even worse are the clients who want me to implement the solution for them, with little engagement or participation from their staff. I know that when I leave they won’t really understand the solution I have delivered, and it will not be continually monitored and improved. It will probably work for a while until some change in the environment requires it to be adapted. Then they will need to engage me, or another consultant, to fix it. This might keep the consultant in work, but it doesn’t deliver good value for the client.

When you work with consultants do you make sure that you learn from them, or do you just take delivery of the solution they develop for you?

3.      Include knowledge transfer as a contract deliverable

As I consultant, I love sharing my knowledge and experience with the clients I work for. It is one of the main sources of job satisfaction. It also helps my clients to be able to maintain and improve any solutions that we develop, so that they can become self-sufficient.

When you are thinking about the outcomes you want from a consulting engagement, do include knowledge transfer as one benefit. This can be hard to measure, but you know when it’s been successful. Of course, knowledge transfer is not just the consultant’s responsibility, you have to work together to make it happen.

When you engage consultants, do you make sure you learn from them as well as getting the other outcomes that you need?

4.      Pay the consultant for outcomes, not hours worked

I have seen consultants who are paid by the day, or the hour, padding out their time to ensure they get sufficient revenue from an engagement. This is not in anybody’s interests. The client gets poor value for money, and the consultant gets poor job satisfaction.

If you know what outcomes you want (see tip 1) then you should be able to agree on how to fund the consultant in a way that will support this. It can be challenging to come up with an agreement based on outcomes, rather than days worked, but it can lead to much better results. You may need to start with a daily rate, while you and the consultant get to know each other, and the consultant understands the scope of the work that needs to be done. After that initial piece of work is complete you should be able to negotiate an outcome-based contract. The consultant will still need to estimate how many days effort this will be, but the deliverable is NOT a number of days, it is an outcome.

Do you engage consultants on an outcome basis, or do you pay by the day?

Summary

Good consultants love to work with clients who know what they want, and how to measure it. They get no pleasure from contracts where they do all the work, and the client does not get as much benefit as they could from the engagement. Next time you need to engage a consultant, keep these tips in mind. You’ll get a better working relationship with the consultant, and more value from the consultation.

 

Hands photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

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