In this entry I'm going to get on a small tangent about "contracting" with companies that execute in a consulting realm, what to watch for, what to ask about, how to negotiate with these companies. These companies are famous for "squeezing" you as a customer to pin you down on deliverables (this I see as completely fair) in order for them to get paid, they _must_ have a set of clearly defined deliverables and timelines signed off on. However, these companies are also interesting in another light. I'll tell you a true story (without names) about a review of certain companies who pitched to solve a problem for a very large customer. Our team was involved in "reviewing" their bids.
Customer "ABA" had a project scoped out: to build a warehouse of information in one years time frame with real-time feeds from a multitude of systems that included HR, web-capture, customer base, click-stream analytics, data mining operations, and a few other components. They had specified the first phase around these pieces (scoped down quite a bit), and then opened it up for bid. Somehow (although I'm not sure how) the "consulting companies" involved in the bid (all 3 of them) managed to find out: how much time the customer had to implement, and how much money (total budget) for the first phase.
The customer had told us: 6 months and $1M dollars (the numbers and time-line have been changed to protect the innocent) was what they had hoped that this would take. The customer brought us in to evaluate these pitches from these vendors.
So, to move on:
We evaluated the pitches, looked at all the power-points, documentation, and then called the companies making the pitch - discussed it all with them. At the end of the day (strange as it may seem) the results were as follows:
Company "A" pitched: 6 months, $1+ million (without expenses), they had pitched an elaborate scheme to get the company "integrated", but this first six months, they did NOT pitch any sort of relevant BI, reporting, analytics. This was just to get the database installed, up & working, initial feeds in place. They claimed 25+ people were needed from a variety of backgrounds (some of which didn't make sense).
Turns out, all three companies pitched EXACTLY to the time frame, and EXACTLY to the TOTAL dollar figures "available" for the implementation.
Ok, you get the point. So why is this case study in this blog anyhow? What's the relevance? I'm glad you asked...
The relevance is: none of the 3 companies pitches included (you guessed it), a) the artifacts that would make the project go b) knowledge transfer on the artifacts c) training and knowledge transfer on the systems they were going to put in place d) NO involvement from the customer employee's was specified.
And it went on from there. In other words, none of the pitches included words about scope control, delivery processes, methodologies and knowledge used to build the systems, training, mentoring. And of course, none of the pitches included _any_ of the actual employees of the existing corporation, not even the business users.
So, at the end of the project (and yes, the consulting companies pitched this too) "there would have to be *required*, 3 more "phases" rounding out the next two years, topping $13M to $15M in revenue streams, piling over 250 _different_ resources (rolling in on the job, out of the job and being shuffled around to different customers depending on resource needs) in order to complete what the business needed done inside of 6 months in order to stay competitive" At the end of the project, there was NO knowledge transfer, NO training, NO mentoring by the people, on the processes and methodologies used to get there, nor on the systems that were put in place.
The consulting companies "claimed" it would be easier for the customer this way, to not get involved. That it would be a "black box slam dunk" proposition that the customer didn't need to care or worry about what or who they rolled in/out of the project, nor that the customer doesn't need to care HOW they build the solution, just that they get it done in time and "within the budget they specified."
This is a serious serious mess. Now I'm no dummy (at least I don't think so)... I've worked as a CUSTOMER Project Manager / employee, and as a consultant. I've seen it (probably guilty of doing these things too in the past, and for that reason I'm writing these entries).
I no longer believe that this is the right way to do business. My full value proposition as an expert/consultant is really, truly as an educator/advisor/counselor to the customer - YOU! It is my responsibility to not only help you get the project done, guide it's build out, put in place the people, processes, and knowledge needed to get it done, but ALSO to train, educate, and share with the employees (both business and IT) on HOW we get things done, WHY we do things the way we do, and WHAT the methodologies are that make it work.
It is my civic duty to understand how to OPTIMIZE the methodologies, and to train you on how to optimize the methodologies that make I.T. more nimble, more successful, and repeatably over time - faster to the delivery track for lower cost. THIS is the way I operate.
These methodologies are not rocket science, they are however quite special from a DW/BI perspective, as we do have _some_ unique value propositions to overcome. But as a customer you need to ask for:
* Copies of the methodology used to build your systems
* Maps that tie the implementation roadmap to the features to the methodology and scope
* Involvement from your employees, how they "help", when they "help".
* A training/mentoring schedule, at what points in the project will the employees become TRAINED to be efficient in the methodology used to construct the system that is critical to your business. (SOME consulting companies hate this, because it "appears" as a loss of future revenue from their perspective, be wary of companies that won't work with you on this).
My whole point is: UNDERSTAND not only what you are "paying for" in services, but also what the end-product will be once delivered. Without that level of understanding, you (as a customer) will be beholden to the consulting company to come in and maintain it... there's the kicker my friends... yup - beholden to the consulting company. At the end of the project, if it's done well, you shouldn't NEED the consulting company anymore except for possibly additional training, or "new projects" where you are resource stretched.
Just be careful my friends. Find the RIGHT consulting company/consultant that meets your needs and will train you on the deliverables, and HOW to use the deliverables effectively in the future.
In my next entry we'll get back on track and talk more about projects, the type of knowledge that needs to be transferred, and the kind of training required to make these things a success. As always, feel free to contact me directly or respond to this blog entry. What have been your experiences?
Posted February 15, 2008 5:18 AM
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