Robert shared his considerable insights on the Venari Podcast recently
It’s not always easy to know when to bring in consultants. No two businesses are the same, and situations that might be straightforward for one firm will pose difficulties for another. Robert Latusek is only too used to this kind of scenario, however. ‘If you want to scope a project well, you need to understand your objectives very clearly,’ he notes.
With over ten years’ experience as an independent consultant, he has a wealth of knowledge to draw on when advising companies – and we were delighted when Robert joined us on the Venari Podcast recently to share his insights with our Senior Interim Solutions Consultant, Mhairi Geraghty.
So, how do you scope an interim or consulting need?
Characteristics of a well-scoped project
Robert lists seven key points for properly scoping a consulting project. These are:
Understand your objectives: ‘They need to be clearly measurable, and you need to understand what the [criteria for] success are.’
Define your scope: ‘Decide what goes in and what’s out,’ Robert says. ‘This will help you with the discussion on the final product.’
Consider your deliverables: What will these be? And how will the client expect them to be presented?
Map out your timeline: Think about the duration of your project, the milestones you will pass along the way, and any deadlines you need to respect.
Resourcing: ‘The budget, staff and equipment all need to be there because if the project is short-staffed, it’s a recipe for disaster,’ Robert notes.
Manage and mitigate risks: You need to be aware of any potential stumbling blocks and set yourself up as best as possible to avoid them. As the saying goes – fail to prepare, prepare to fail!
Communicate with key stakeholders: Robert believes that doing this is ‘effectively a governance framework’, helping you set your project on the right course from the get-go.
However, Robert advises that these seven points are not the end of the scoping phase. A clear definition of the impact desired from taking on a consultant, as well as any further business goals, are key. ‘[Clients] need to be very open and very honest about the capability gap. So, they need to quantify what they can do internally’ before deciding where consultants can help. He also preaches the necessity for open conversations about your budget: ‘It’s very easy to say, “Well, we have a budget to start a project,” and then the money will start running out.’
Deciding on the best approach
What’s the best way of moving forward once the initial scoping is out of the way – to mix internal and external resources? Or working with a pared-back team? It will depend on your organisation and the parameters of your project. ‘A lean team may mean either shorter engagement, less depth – but it may also mean a laser focus,’ Robert advises. ‘If you understand your capability gaps and where you fall short the most, then you can adjust your budget priority accordingly.’
Something else that’s worth considering at this stage is urgency. If your undertaking is a top priority, ensuring the right resources are in place will be paramount to deliver successfully. Ask yourself what will happen if the project cannot take place – how will this impact the company in the short, medium, and long terms?
Think about longevity – and how long the consultant will be around for
If a project or gap will only be relevant for a week or two in your organisation, the time and resources invested in the process of engaging someone may be a question of diminishing returns. If your undertaking is anticipated to have long-term impact on your organisation, however, there will be a greater return on investment. Bringing in outside resources for short-term projects could still be worthwhile if successful delivery will positively impact the company’s reputation, revenue, or customer relations.
No matter the duration, a consultant’s time with your organisation is finite – but Robert stresses their responsibility ‘to implement the processes that would govern the project and measure the performance over time.’ It goes without saying that consultants need to get the ‘buy-in’ from the firm that contracts them: ‘If people in the organisation don’t believe the project is there to help, they will fight it, or they will simply ignore it.’
Keeping track of the process with KPIs is important here, Robert notes. ‘If the performance is as expected, or is better than expected, you effectively need to incentivise people who are the guardians of the process. Because if the organisation or people don’t see the personal benefits, then it will just become another thing on their to-do list.’ By contrast, proper incentivisation will make sure that your project is moving in the right direction – as long as you make sure to hold people accountable, that is.
Common pitfalls, and how to avoid them
A lack of clarity, miscommunication, and misalignment on business goals are among the most common obstacles to effective consulting. Robert’s seen them all and knows what to do to work through such issues. Making sure everyone’s on the same page during the initial scoping phase will reap benefits later – as will managing unrealistic expectations. ‘This usually happens with clients that are going through difficult times [...] Sometimes they have the perception, or they believe, that bringing consultants on board will solve all the problems.’
While external expertise can shed light on things that management might not notice themselves – as well as helping to marshal internal knowledge and resources – in the end, consultants cannot do directors’ jobs for them. ‘If there is no incentive plan, people will start asking, “What’s in it for me?”’, Robert notes. Good communication between consultants and management is key – as is mutual alignment on common goals, which will help to decrease resistance to change in an organisation and ensure that your project can go ahead smoothly.