Maximum Value From Your Consultants

There was a great article recently in Supply Chain Brain that described a litany of failure. In measuring the value of supply chain consultants, the authors review five horror stories that resulted from consulting engagements. This article was very enlightening as it did a great job of what can go wrong when you fail to work with your consultants and heed their advice. Even though consultants are cheap, and often the best resource you have to identify savings, this is only true if you work with them. Otherwise, they become just as expensive as all the other boneheaded initiatives an average organization will introduce on a daily basis.

Fortunately for us, the article also does a great job of describing the proper approach to maximizing the benefits your consultants can offer you through the advice it offers in each of its tales of horror. The proper attitude, approach, and attention is paramount to your success, and makes the difference between a project that is classified as a dismal failure and a project that generates 10X ROI. As the article notes, in many cases, the best a consultant can do is to give you a good roadmap. When all is said and done, you still have to drive the car to the destination.

So what do you need to do? At a high level, you need to:

  • Listen to the consultant, even if it’s not what you want to hear.
    A good consultant is one who comes in, tells you what’s wrong, and what you need to do to fix it. There’s no value in a consultant that pays you lip-service for a big paycheck.
  • Be prepared for “scope creep”.
    A good consultant will likely uncover problems that neither of you were aware of at the outset. Although you will be able to push off some of these problems to a future project, others will need to be addressed. For example, if the goal of the project is to design or identify a software-based solution to automatically generate import and export documentation for customs and the consultant identifies that your organization is not capturing certain types of critical, required, data, then you will need to extend the project scope to the creation of a process and implementation of a system to capture the necessary raw data.
  • Be ready to take action and implement at least some of the recommendations.
    There’s no benefit in paying a consultant thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars simply to identify problems and respective solutions. The benefit comes in implementing the solutions identified by the consultant.
  • Put your own ego in check.
    Maybe you built your company from nothing to a 25-person 5-Million a year operation on nothing but sweat, resolve, and pennies you found on the street while your heavily-funded venture-backed competitors went-belly up faster than lemmings can get to their favorite cliff. That’s great, and you definitely deserve a pat on the back, but that doesn’t mean you know what it takes to grow your company from a small 5-Million nickel-ante player to a mid-size 50-Million market force to be reckoned with.
    Or maybe you were the one who last sourced that 100-M category three years ago and saved 10-M. That doesn’t mean you’re the right person to source that category again today when the balance of power has shifted to suppliers, when raw material costs according to the market indexes have risen 50%, and when your key suppliers are already maxed. You did well, but you likely don’t have the expertise and experience of the consultant being brought in who has sourced this category half a dozen times in the last year in similar market conditions and who knows what you need to do to get results.
    The consultant’s goal is to bring you value, which you will only get if you’re willing to admit that “Ok, I’m good, and I certainly know more about this consultant than X, but right now, I really need to do a good job with Y, and this is the right person for that job.” And you have to remember what happens at the end of a successful engagement — the consultant moves on to the next project and you’re the only one left to get the pat-on-the-back, and the big bonus, from the boss-man.
  • Recognize that sometimes technology is the answer.
    A smart person recognizes that technology, by nature, is not intelligent and that she should not blindly follow any “advice” it has to offer, but she also recognizes that, on the right equipment, it can do more computations per minute than she can do in a lifetime and mine through more data in a few minutes than she’ll ever be able to. If you’re lacking good visibility or data upon which to base decisions, you need technology that can get you that visibility and data.
  • Work with the consultant (and leave the politics to the politicians).
    Regardless of the rumors you might hear, the consultant is not there to take your job. Trust me when I say she doesn’t want it.
  • Get the consultant the data she needs promptly …
    Every day a consultant waits for data is another day the project is delayed and another day you will have to wait to get the advice you need to improve your operations and cash-flow.
  • … and make sure that data is good data.
    A consultant’s recommendations are only as good as the information you provide.
  • Don’t limit the consultant to focussing on just process or just technology.
    The two go hand in hand. There’s no value in automating an inefficient, incorrect, or just plain poor process and there’s no value in adapting your processes to fit the wrong technology. Give the consultant the freedom to address the full scope of your problem.
  • Be serious about problem solving and process improvement.
    If you’re doing a project merely to “check a box” on standardized RFXs, then you’re just wasting everyone’s time. For example, if you undertake a SAS-70 initiative just because your competitor did it without a solid goal of improving your service offerings and production processes, the effort will simply result in a large collection of “manuals on the shelf” gathering dust that cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Be prepared to go back to school.
    Sometimes the consultant will find that you’re significantly behind the curve and the only way to catch you up is through radical updates to your processes or technology, which are well beyond where you are today. If you’re not prepared to learn and innovate, you will not be able to act on the recommendations, which might literally mean the difference between staying viable and going bankrupt.