Implementing a data warehouse? Creating a BI environment? Need help gathering requirements, managing the project, getting the executives' attention? These are all services offered by external consultants or contract employees. They can help you move forward much faster than you could by yourself. However, just as in all things, if you are not familiar with how to use them, you may not be getting the maximum from your expensive resources. Here are some practical tips on getting the most from these resources.
Katherine Spencer Lee wrote a useful article in Optimize Magazine in which she gave good advice on getting off to a good start with your consultants or contract employees. There seems to be three main themes around these ideas: advanced planning, careful management and excellent communication. Being a consultant for the better part of 2 decades myself, I have added a few of my own thoughts as well. I hope you find these informative:
1. Plan ahead - When you develop your project plan and deliverables, make sure to document what the specific duties of the consultant or contract employee will be. I can't stress this enough. A consultant needs guidance just as much as your employees do about what is needed from him or her.
2. Get staff buy-in - Remember that your staff may resent or even depth charge the consultant. Yes, I have had this happen to me and, believe me, it is not a position I ever want to be in again. Talk it over with your team. WHy are you bringing in the consultant? Are you encouraging your team to collaborate with the resource?
3. Be selective - Many consulting companies present their "best resumes" to get the work. Unfortunately, some companies do what we in the biz fondly call a "Bait and switch" - that is, you get hooked on a nice resume but don't get that person on the team. You get a green person who they hope will learn on your nickel. Ye, I have seen it happen too often. Make sure you get the resume and talk to the actual person who will be assigned the job. NOTE: if you delay or postpone the start date, you may not get the original resource. All consulting companies are opportunistic. If a job for that resource comes up while you are dilly dallying, you may lose him or her. Start the process again when you are ready.
4. Check references - Check with previous clients -- hopefully of the actual resource you are getting. You know what to ask -- Deadlines met? Got along with other team members? Good skill set? Would the reference use the resource again?
5. Get it in writing - You must have a written contract in place BEFORE the resource steps foot into your project. While we have occasionally started a consultant before getting all the paper work in place, it was usually only with a client that we had prior history with. It is to everyone's benefit to get the contract in place before the consultant starts. The contract must have the dates of the engagement, the deliverables expected, the fees, and the right to hire language (if you want that option).
6. Get off to a good start - Introduce the consultant to the project stakeholders - You should also include an organization chart to help the consultant understand who all the players are. The politics of a project can be devastating to your overall success so give the consultant a good heads up about any pot holes or land mines he or she may encounter.
7. Keep everyone in the loop and get feedback - Communicate - communicate -- communicate. The consultant must be aware of all staff meetings and changes in schedule, requirements, or deliverables. It i also important for you to be open to feedback from the consultant. You hired them for their expertise, now listen to it!
8. Ensure the transfer of knowledge - Probably the most important thing to remember about a consultant or contract employee is that he or she will be leaving the project at some point. You must ensure that the person continuously shares knowledge and information with the appropriate team members. They must document -- usually in writing -- why they did what they did and how they did it. A private and candid exit interview about how to improve the project may not be a bad idea either. You may learn things that were not easily picked up.
Maximizing your return on the use of a consultant or contract employee is more a matter of mutual respect and responsibility. In the end, if you have a good consultant, you may wish to convert them to a role of "trusted advisor" for future projects.
Please add your own thoughts on how to get the best return on using consultants. I look forward to reading them.
Yours in BI SUccess.