Recently Nigel Lewis of Global Logistics Media asked for my tips on hiring Supply Chain consultants.
In this exclusive interview I share what I think are the main things to consider before hiring.
“Let’s start with the bad process. So as you say we’ve got a phone call or an email and it says ‘We’d like you to tender for this piece of work that we’re doing’. There’s a 3 or 4 page brief, there is very little opportunity to engage with the business and to find out more about the issues and it’s a very procurement sort of approach and more times than not it’s really ‘let’s get 3 or 4 quotes’ and assess the cost and we’ll pick someone to work with.
What kind of outcome does that deliver? To be honest, most times we get approached like that and we decline politely and say we’re a bit busy at the moment. For the client who adopts that approach, I’m not sure it actually gives a fantastic outcome because a successful consulting outcome is as much about people and the connection between the consultants and the in-house team, as all of the tools and expertise they bring to the party. Of course, there are reasons why people adopt that approach particularly in the government scenario – they have to go to Tender if it’s a large project, yes, we have to go to Tender, so we do them sometimes, of course, but it’s not our preference.
The preferred way to engage consultants and where we see the greatest benefit for the client is not to rush the process, to identify early on what the issues are, don’t leave it until the last minute, so start talking early. It’s a little bit going to a doctor, if I feel I’m having heart problems, I don’t wait until it’s really severe before I go to the doctor, I’ll go along for bit of an opinion first and it’s the same with consultants – so engage early would be the key.
The other thing is, if you don’t have a relationship with a consulting company already – ask around, get references, talk to colleagues, find out who’s being recommended in the market place, find out who’s got a good reputation and don’t just go online or sort of look at the phone book, not that people do that this days. And then meet a couple of consulting groups, if you don’t have one, there’s an obvious selection – meet 2 or 3, see how you get on with them, what are the people like. Meet the people who are actually going to work on the projects with you, let them meet your people. For example, I would always want to go and visit facilities, perhaps there’s going to be a focus of a consulting assignment, I would want to meet the senior executives – so invest a little bit of time up front, that always pays off. And then the process that we would adopt is to meet those senior executives, visit the facilities, putting in our time here that is no expense to the client to really understand the issue.
We want to know, is the issue very clear that needs to be resolved? Sometimes it’s not. Is it within our capability to actually solve it? Because inexperienced consultants will jump in and will take on any sort of project – that’s a recipe for disaster. We need to be confident that we can actually deliver a good outcome for the client and we’ve got relevant experience that we’ve tackled this sort if things before. And probably most importantly, do we want to work with that client? Now, that sounds a bit arrogant but it’s not meant to be. We have got to work very closely with the management team and the client organisation; we need to be able to work with those people well, deliver a great outcome and make sure that there’s a good fit. It would be very rare that we come across people that we can’t work with but it’s an important check point.
Then it would be a case of working with the client’s organisation to build up a brief. We would then typically put together what we call a first draft proposal and talk that through with the executive team just to make sure that we’re getting the objectives right, the scope right, the timing, if we’re understanding a particular constraints in the business, we would then go away and refine that to something more like a final proposal and again sit down with the executive team and the business to make sure that it will actually meet there needs, meet the people that we’re going to work with and then finally, set a start date and a finish date in key master, and of course what outcomes we want in the projects.
So, I think the key would be: engage early, engage with the people that you’re actually going to work with, develop a clear plan – either with the consultants or even if you’ve got one earlier on and make sure that you’re feeling confident with the people you’re going to work with.”