Two critical questions to ask your consultants

There are two questions you should always ask a consultancy, systems implementer or even contractor before you hire them.

1. When and why did you resign a client?

Often consultants are put in a position where they are asked to do something that they believe is the wrong approach, will deliver a substandard solution or, as I heard one consultant saying, “They’ve asked me to do X, I know it won’t work, but I’ll take their money anyway.”

Ask them when they resigned a client and why? Ask who the client was so that you can check who resigned whom (as often they’ll use an example where they were fired and reposition it as them resigning the client.)

I remember in the depths of the consulting crisis of 2001/2, we resigned our biggest client, as the person to whom we were assigned to work with was actively undermining our work. His boss would do nothing about it, so we did. We left. If we were not allowed to deliver value, we were not going to stay.

You want consultants who will only take your money if they are going to deliver significant value.

2. What assignments would you refuse?

There is a tendency, especially with larger consultancies, to believe they can do anything. They can, but often badly.

They should reply with a list of areas outside of their scope of practice. If they can’t, they don’t have any focus and are no better than ‘general handymen’.

In Conclusion

Any consultancy has a ‘bell curve’ of things they are excellent at, okay at and not very good at. You want to know what are at the two ends of their bell curve. If they can’t answer, then they don’t know their business – so do you want them working on your business?

You want consultants who are excellent (no just okay) in the area you are assigning them to work in.

And remember, you don’t ‘hire’ consultants, you ‘manage’ them!

Topics: Value Delivery, Project Controls, Project Governance

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Feb 2010) as "Two Critical Questions To Ask Your Consultants"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections