by The Bans Consulting Group, Inc.


The following article was written based on the consulting experience we have amassed in the past 10 years in Toronto. We aim to highlight the factors we consider important when deciding which consulting company to choose, and why.

The Problem: A new business requirement arises and your company has decided build/re-build a new information system. Your IT resources are limited so you plan to use an external consulting company.


Initially the temptation is to hire new staff, because this seems more cost-effective. If, however, there is no other project at the end of the development cycle, what will you do with the extra staff? Do you want to establish a reputation as one who hires and fires employees all the time?

Here are some of the top reasons to hire a consulting firm: 

  • effective experience in your field;
  • real life experience in solving similar problems in other encounters;
  • ability to work and adapt quickly to new business environments and requirements;
  • understand and recognize problems, present ingenious solutions;
  • some consultants are domain experts in respect of the problem they resolve;
  • exposure to numerous clients and industries;
  • reduced risk by avoiding previously encountered problems; 
  • ability to train full time personnel and document their work;
  • full accountability is shifted from your already over booked team to the external team;
  • finite period engagement that will save extra long-term expense of hiring permanent staff.


What are your responsibilities? 

Start by preparing yourself for a new project.

What to start with:

  • Begin by identifying your project objectives;
  • Define the scope of the project;
  • Understand your budget;
  • Define your expectations of the consulting firm; 
  • Know your deadlines; 
  • Identify the criteria to be used when evaluating the consultants' work.


Begin by writing a scope document (stakeholder needs) that clearly communicates your IT needs; create list of the main features you want to be accomplished, using "guesstimation" (=estimation in early phase) timelines.

Several people, clients, users, business people, IT staff and so on, should review this list. You must ensure that your understanding of the project matches the client's outlook. Refine your scope document until all the parties agree. Involve staff from your IT department for some of the  estimations.

Begin calculating your budget, identifying all costs you might be faced with and understanding what you can afford in terms of consulting fees and duration. The figures you establish now  will help you when you need to negotiate fees.  

How do you find a consulting firm?

In today' day and age, consulting expertise may be provided by very large organizations, or alternatively, by medium and small consulting practices, the latter of which are often highly specialized. 

In general, small consulting firms are able to offer tailored and more focused services, whereas larger firms tend to be more expensive, but may also be more flexible in scheduling your engagement.

Your final selection should be made keeping in mind that knowledge and experience in your industry is a must. Word of mouth from a trusted source is a great source of information about a potential consulting team. Ask some of your own clients about companies that they've used in the past. Some professional organizations, magazines, articles, ads, and the Internet can also offer good resources.

If the consultants can't "speak your language," it will not only be difficult for them to understand your needs, you'll also find yourself spending valuable time educating them about your business. You need consultants that have previous experience in your field, who can bring more value to the table in order to make your businesses more successful.

If the consultant's views and opinions are similar to yours and if they are expressed openly, you may found a good potential candidate. Effective screening will assist you in securing a shorter list of potential consulting providers.

How does one evaluate consulting companies?

Start by sending an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) to (the short list) pre-selected consulting companies. After this document is signed, send the consulting company your project scope document and establish dates for interviews and meetings (on your premises and their premises). It is advisable that pre-screened companies become familiar with your project scope and schedule prior to the interview. Ask them to bring to the table any ideas and material about your project and related subjects. Engaging with companies with different backgrounds and viewing various approaches or techniques will help you better understand the problems you are tackling and identify potential practical solutions.

Some questions that you should ask a consulting company:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • What types of projects/issues have you tackled before?
  • What projects do you prefer to work on?
  • What roles can you and your team cover in this project?
  • Do you work in our industry? Who are your main clients?
  • What domains do you specialize in?
  • How do you measure success?
  • Can you meet our proposed schedule?
  • Can you work extra hours if is required?
  • How you follow up on project status?
  • What is your fee structure (time and material, per hour, per diem, fixed cost per project)?
  • What are your billing rates?
  • What types of expenses do you require to be reimburse for?
  • Do you require initial deposit?
  • Do you guarantee value added outcomes?
  • Do you provide post development support?
  • Can we see some samples of your work?
  • Do you offer mentoring support too?
  • Can we ask any of your clients about your team?
  • How do you handle scope changes?
  • Can you provide references?

Based on the responses you receive to these questions, you should get a feel for how the consulting company operates.  Consulting engagements should complement your operations, not assume control of them.  Make sure you follow how your money is spent on consulting services closely. Setup milestones. Ask for code reviews.  Make sure you understand complex solutions  and expect your consulting company to pose insightful questions and provide innovative results. After your interviews are complete, narrow down your list and request written proposals. 

A general consultantsí proposals should include the following items:

  • A summary of the work to be performed
  • Deliverables included in each step of the project
  • Timeline for completion
  • Billing rates and payment schedule
  • Resumes or profiles of the physical team of consultants who will perform the work


Evaluate each proposal and negotiate the best offer for the approved budget. If you were not successful in securing a solution, consider modifying the scope of the budget. 
Start verifying references. If possible, focus on companies that have specialized in your field or have completed tasks similar to those you need to be performed. Broach all potentially difficult issues up front; inquire into engagement history and into the quality of service provided. Meet the team that will be assigned to your project and ensure your existing team will work well together with the consultants offered. Ask for personnel adjustment if you feel that any of the employees offered do not meet your criteria.

Final Decision: A Contract

You have a firm that can meet your timelines and budget objectives. What's left?

Signing the contract!

Usually consulting firms have a standard engagement contract format. 

Verify that this contract includes:

  • Complete list of deliverables (prioritize them too)
  • A projected completion date
  • A schedule for payment
  • Milestones at which the client and the consultant can evaluate the work that was performed and solve any problems that may have occurred
  • Information on how to handle change requests
  • Contract termination prior to project completion
  • Appointment of staff in your organization who have the authority to approve the consultant's work
  • A method for resolving disputes
  • Appendix with consultant proposal 

Conclusion

"Real Consultants" can prove very useful to your organization; they can bring genuine value, benefits and expertise. It is  your responsibility, however, to select the consultant that best matches your needs. 

Donít rush to hire a consulting firm. 
The time you spend up front, thinking, selecting, networking and verifying your decision will be repaid many times over by selecting the right consulting firm from the beginning. A project will present several roles that can be divided or condensed between several individual workers, depending on the tasks concerned. The Bans Consulting Group Inc. can provide you with the skilled professionals necessary for the successful completion of your project. 

The project roles offered by The Bans are:

  • Project Manager
  • System Architect
  • Data Architect 
  • Development Team Leader 
  • Senior Developers
  • Developers
  • Testing
  • Technical Writers


Final Notes: The Bans Consulting Group Inc. has published this article in order to raise awareness in the software community in terms of when and how to choose consultants in a project. We are fully committed to provide you with the best service available.
Contact our head office at 416 225 5279 for more information.




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