Why do people hire consulting firms? Not the body shops or boutique firms that are always there, but why do people hire the big guys? You know, the guys with billions of dollars in revenue every year:
You hire the big guys for a few things: knowledge and expertise which in turn provide risk mitigation. If you are hiring one of the above firms for something other than that you are doing yourselves a disservice and them. Consulting firms come in different flavours: body shop, boutique and full service.
- Body shop. These consulting firms provide bodies. You pick a skill, they will provide a body. They normally don’t bid on projects that require multiple staff (they will as part of a consortium) but if you need Body X for Position Y, they will probably be able to find someone.
- Boutique. These firms have a specific area of expertise. And they’re good at it. They had to be in order to survive. If you’ve got a requirement for some very specific skills in a very specific market and you want the best, then these boutique firms are your answer.
- Full Service. If you need everyone for a project or initiative, from developers to business analysts to project managers, then the full-service firms are your best bet. They have the volume of work and the volume of staff that they can fulfill almost any request.
The problem is determining when to use each type of firm. If you have a couple of spots to fill in a team, then a body shop is probably more appropriate. If you have a need for someone with a deep knowledge of a technology then your best bet is one of the boutique firms. A body shop may also be able to satisfy your needs, but a boutique firm is more likely to have who you need and is more likely going to be able to supply more than a single person. If you have a large project . well, here is where things get a little tricky.
If you have a large project and you are going to hand control over to the consulting firm then you go for one of the big guys. (Remember, once of the reasons for hiring the big guys is for risk mitigation.) If, however, you are going to want to retain control of what is happening do not hire one of the big guys. Bad move. Either make the full service company completely responsible or hire from the other guys. When you hire the big guys you should have people to manage the relationship between yourself and the firm. You shouldn’t manage the project. If you are managing the project, why did you hire the firm in the first place?
This, unfortunately, is one of the problems with government procurement. Because we don’t like failure in the government we put in place all sorts of things that we think will prevent failure, but which, in the long run, cause failure. And the consulting firm? They don’t care. They aren’t “in charge” so nothing can really stick to them. Is this what happened to the Government of Canada and their email transformation initiative? Or was it a simple matter of not creating the right contract? Or do we go farther back and say that the RFP for the initiative was fundamentally flawed? I’m kind of leaning that way myself but it could be all three.
The Government of Canada has had a number of high profile failures in the past few years. The skill of the people involved is not in question so where could the problem be? It kind of narrows down to management of the project. Either hire the big guys and get out of their way or do it yourself. Trying to get the best of both worlds results in the worst of both worlds.