Finding the right consultancy for your business isn’t necessarily straightforward. After all, it’s a competitive market out there and many companies have a great deal to shout about.
With so much choice available, how do you go about ensuring you engage with the right consultancy for you, your project, and ultimately your own customers? Well, here are five crucial questions you should ask:
1 - How solid is its experience in your sector?
Consultancies might boast of great credentials on their websites, but delve deeper. It may have little to no experience in the sector in which you operate. There’s nothing wrong with a consultancy with a broad range of experience in a number of industries, but if you work in a heavily regulated, and therefore particularly complex industry, such as financial services for example, it may be worth narrowing your search to find a specialist firm with a strong track record of success in your area.
2 - How experienced is it in your chosen technology?
Similarly, a market leader that supplies solutions aligned to one particular technology is all very well, but before you jump in, take a step back as a tie to a particular technology through a professional partnership or affiliation does not necessarily guarantee the optimal choice.
To get the best result for your project, keep an open mind and seek out a consultancy who can offer genuinely impartial advice. A firm’s consultants may well be ‘experts’ in the field in question, but it may not suit your specific requirements. A consultancy that is technology agnostic is more likely to help you choose the right solution to meet the objectives of your individual project, and therefore the needs of your users.
“...a qualified software consulting company will pay for themselves by helping an organisation avoid costly, erroneous investments. They can also provide you with an in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of each of your options, along with an estimate of the likelihood of a specific software platform to stay at the ‘top of the heap’, based on current software trends.”Jessica Bosari, Forbes, 2012
Another consideration is how a consultancy demonstrates that technical expertise. Does the firm have an accessible blog referencing work with certain technologies, or has it published relevant white papers to show thought leadership in that area? Does it have personnel who are active in the technology or open source community, speaking at conferences and events or contributing to discussions about technology trends and movements?
It’s difficult for a consultancy to stand out if it is frequently absent from a key event on your annual calendar. Meeting people face to face at such events is an important part of building relations and getting a really good feel for how a consultancy operates.
“The key resource of consulting firms, and some would say the only resource, is their people...Insiders tell us that working at a consulting firm is very much like being on a team with the best people from school. People are universally bright, interesting, hardworking, and motivated." The Editors, WetFeet, 2012
3 - Can it provide strong and credible examples of its work?
Talking to a sales representative for a firm may not be enough to satisfy yourself that a firm’s knowledge has been thoroughly tested. Ask for client case studies and quotes from satisfied clients in your area of business if they aren’t already displayed on the website or in leaflets and other collateral.
Chat with its people to drill down further. It may be they can’t talk about specific clients due to non-disclosure agreements and sensitivities in certain business domains, so its site may not be littered with big name logos, but don’t discount working with it on that basis.
Can its consultants reference genuine influence on a successful outcome, as well as technical expertise within real and varied client projects? A quick conversation may be enough to highlight the detail of recent successes on similar projects, even if the client can’t necessarily be named.
4 - Does its people have your best interests in mind?
Being technology agnostic is one consideration, but rapport and culture are things that can’t be easily measured, yet are essential to effective project work.
The team dynamic on an individual project may change over time, particularly if it’s long term or has a complex structure of individuals involved. Ask if you will have a client manager who will work with you throughout the relationship and beyond. At the beginning of any engagement, it’s important to meet this individual in person, so you can see if you gel, and start as you mean to go on. By building a strong relationship you are more likely to feel comfortable with the transition from the sales process through to actual implementation.
“While there’s no single formula for word-of-mouth success, I’ve found it often starts with creating a culture that encourages your clients to consider themselves valued partners in your business.” Shawn P. O’Connor, BusinessWeek, 2011
5 - Can it provide the breadth and depth of services you require?
Consider the support package offered by a given consultancy, and the flexibility it is able to provide. Delve into, and question the details of the proposal before going ahead. This may include whether a team is based on site or remotely, or a combination of these at different stages of the project. Can the project be shaped to ensure a consultancy is working effectively with your own teams, and will you have the option to add to the number of consultants working with you at different points?
Think about whether you’re aiming simply to augment the skills that already exist within your organisation, or if you’d prefer the fully managed delivery of an end to end project. If you need help defining the technical approach to adopt, and require support in bringing your teams up to speed, then a ‘cheap’ offshore option is unlikely to be best way forward. You may need guidance, and someone external to help drive the project forward, in which case a fully bespoke service may more effective.