Wednesday, October 18, 2006

October 23, 2006


The need for outside contract services is nothing new. IT-related consultants have been around since the computer was first introduced for commercial purposes. Today, all of the Fortune 1000 companies have consultants playing different roles in IT, either on-site or offshore. Many companies are satisfied with the work produced by their consultants, others are not. Some consultants are considered a necessary evil who tackle assignments in an unbridled manner and charge exorbitant rates. For this type of consultant, it is not uncommon for the customer to be left in the dark in terms of what the consultant has done, where they are going, and if and when they will ever complete their assignment. Understand this, the chaos brought on by such consultants are your own doing.

IT consultants offer three types of services:

  1. Special expertise - representing skills and proficiencies your company is currently without, be it the knowledge of a particular product, industry, software, management techniques, special programming techniques and languages, computer hardware, etc.

  2. Extra resources - for those assignments where in-house resource allocations are either unavailable or in short supply, it is often better to tap outside resources to perform the work.

  3. Offer advice - to get a fresh perspective on a problem, it is sometimes beneficial to bring in an outsider to give an objective opinion on how to proceed. A different set of eyes can often see something we may have overlooked.

Whatever purpose we wish to use a consultant for, it is important to manage them even before they are hired. This means a company should know precisely what it wants before hiring a consultant.


Before we contact a consultant, let's begin by defining the assignment as concisely and accurately as possible; frankly, it shouldn't be much different than writing a job description for in-house employees. It should include:

  1. Scope - specifying the boundaries of the work assignment and detailing what is to be produced. This should also include where the work is to be performed (on-site, off-site, both) and time frame for performing the work.

  2. Duties and Responsibilities - specifying the types of work to be performed.

  3. Required Skills and Proficiencies - specifying the knowledge or experience required to perform the work.

  4. Administrative Relationships - specifying who the consultant is to report to and who they will work with (internal employees and other external consultants).

  5. Methodology considerations - specifying the methodology, techniques and tools to be used, along with the deliverables to be produced and review points. This is a critical consideration in managing the consultant. However, if the consultant is to use his/her own methodology, the customer should understand how it works and the deliverables produced.

  6. Miscellaneous in-house standards - depending on the company, it may be necessary to review applicable corporate policies, e.g., travel expenses, dress code, attendance, behavior, drug test, etc.

Many would say such an Assignment Definition is overkill. Far from it. How can we manage anyone if we do not establish the rules of the game first? Doing your homework now will pay dividends later when trying to manage the consultant. Assignment clarity benefits both the customer and the consultant alike. Such specificity eliminates vague areas and materially assists the consultant in quoting a price.


Armed with an Assignment Definition, we can now begin the process of selecting a consultant in essentially the same manner as selecting an in-house employee. Choosing the right consultant is as important a task as the work to be performed. As such, candidates must be able to demonstrate their expertise for the assignment. Certification and/or in-house testing are good ways for checking required skills and proficiencies. Also, reviewing prior consulting assignments (and checking references) is very helpful. Examining credentials is imperative in an industry lacking standards. For example, many consultants may have a fancy title and profess to be noted experts in their field but, in reality, may be nothing more than contract programmers. In other words, beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.

Ideally, a consultant should have both a business and technical background. True, technical expertise is needed to perform IT assignments, but a basic understanding of business (particularly your business) is also important for the consultant to adapt to your environment. This is needed even if you are using nothing more than contract programmers.

In terms of remuneration, you normally have two options: an hourly rate or a fixed price. For the former, be sure the work hours are specified, including on-site and off-site. Many clients are uncomfortable paying an hourly wage for an off-site consultant. Under this scenario, routine status reports should be required to itemize the work performed and the time spent. However, the lion's share of consulting services are based on a fixed price contract. Here, the role of the methodology becomes rather important. Whether you are using "PRIDE" or another Brand X methodology, it is important the consultant and client both have a clear understanding of the project's work breakdown structure, the deliverables to be produced, and the review points. From this, an effective dialog can be communicated in terms of managing the project. Further, the methodology becomes the basis for the preparation of estimates and schedules.

After examining your candidates, it now becomes necessary to balance the level of expertise against price. Sure, a senior person can probably get the job done in less time, but perhaps the costs may be too high for your budget. "Expertise" versus "expense" becomes a serious consideration at this point.

Whomever is selected, it is important that a written agreement be prepared and signed. The agreement should reference the Assignment Definition mentioned above and any other pertinent corporate verbiage. Very important: make sure it is clear that the work produced by the consultant becomes your exclusive property (not the consultant's). Further, the consultant shouldn't use misappropriated work from other assignments. Finally, add a clause pertaining to workmanship; that the consultant will correct at his/her expense any defects found; e.g., defective software, data base designs, etc.


The two most obvious ways to manage consultants is by having them prepare routine status reports and project time reports. Such reports should be produced on a weekly basis and detail what the consultant has produced for the past week and detail his/her plans for the coming week. You, the client, should review and approve all such reports and file accordingly.

A methodology materially assists in tracking a consultant's progress. As a road map for a project, the methodology takes the guesswork out of what is to be produced and when. Without such a road map, you are at the mercy of the consultant. Along these lines, I am reminded of a story of a large manufacturing company in the UK who used one of the large CPA firms to tackle a major system development assignment. The system was very important to the client, but lacking the necessary in-house resources to develop it, they turned to the CPA firm to design and develop it. Regrettably, the client didn't take the time to define the methodology for the project and left it to the discretion of the CPA firm. The project began and the CPA firm brought on-site many junior staff members to perform the systems and programming work. So far, so good. However, considerable time went by before the client asked the senior partner about the status of the project (after several monthly invoices). The senior partner assured the client that all was well and the project was progressing smoothly. More time past (and more invoices paid) with still nothing to show for it. Becoming quite anxious, the client began to badger the consultant as to when the project would be completed. Finally, after several months of stalling, the consultant proudly proclaimed "Today we finished Phase 1....but now we have to move on to Phase 2." And, as you can imagine, there were many more succeeding phases with no end in sight.

What is the lesson from this story? Without a methodology road map, it is next to impossible to effectively manage a consultant. The project will lose direction almost immediately and the project will go into a tailspin. The only person who wins in this regard is the consultant who is being paid regardless of what work is produced. Instead of vague generalities, you, the client, have to learn to manage by deliverables.


My single most important recommendation to anyone considering the use of outside consultants is simple: Get everything in writing! Clearly define the work assignment, get a signed agreement spelling out the terms of the assignment, and demand regular status reports.

I am always amazed how companies give consulting firms carte blanche to perform project work as they see fit. Abdicating total control to a consultant is not only irresponsible, it is highly suspicious and may represent collusion and kickbacks.

There is nothing magical in managing consultants. It requires nothing more than simple planning, organization, and control. If you are not willing to do this, then do not be surprised with the results produced. Failure to manage a consultant properly or to adequately inspect work in progress will produce inadequate results. So, do yourself (and your company) a favor, do your homework and create a win-win scenario for both the consultant and yourself.

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...
"An expert is someone who lives more than 50 miles out of town and wears a tie to work."


We've just introduced a new free service for managers to perform a self-analysis of their style of management, including leadership and corporate culture. Check it out at:


Also be sure to check out our new "MBA Daily Productivity Analyzer" which is a free calculator to evaluate a person's personal productivity during the day. It is also available at our corporate web site.


The International Institute of Business Analysis will be holding their World Congress for Business Analysts (in conjunction with ProjectWorld 2006) on November 6th-9th at the Caribe Royale Hotel in Orlando, FL. For information, call 212/661-3500 x 3702 or visit their web site at:

The Association of Management Consulting Firms will be holding their 60th Annual Meeting on December 6th-8th at the Harvard Club in New York City. For information, contact AMCF headquarters in New York at 212/551-7887 or visit their web page at:

If you have got an upcoming IRM related event you want mentioned, please e-mail the date, time and location of the event to


Folks, we've just released a new book on management entitled, "The Bryce is Right! Empowering Managers in today's Corporate Culture." This is a frank and candid description of the state of the art in management and includes essays on the problems in management today, along with some pragmatic advice on how to deal with them. Basically, this is a condensed course in management. As such, it is suited for managers, either those aspiring to become a manager or for those who need a refresher course. It will also be of interest to young people entering the work force, and is excellent for college curriculums.

Charles Cole of Lyndhurst, OH, said it is a "Very interesting book. Good work! It reminds me of some of the early works I read by W. Edwards Deming. Too bad the American corporate gurus of his day didn't pay him heed."

And Wolf Hager of Fort Myers, FL, says it is "A very impressive publication which requires careful reading and reminds me somewhat of Peter Drucker."

The price is just $20 plus tax. For more information on our book or to order on-line, see:

We have also just produced a new one-day training program of the same name. For more information on both the eBook and course, please visit our web site at:

While there, look for our new MS PowerPoint presentation describing both the book and the training program.


I've seen a lot of Data Base Management Systems in the last thirty years. The big guns in the early days were IMS, Total, IDS, IDMS, and ADABAS. Then the relational movement came along with DB2 and Oracle commanding the DBMS landscape. Down on the PC level, I remember first seeing dBase on an old Compaq "lugtop" in the early 1980's. For the time, it was quite impressive. I have also worked with DB2/2 (the early PC version of DB2) and Lotus Approach. I liked working with Approach, it was pretty powerful and very easy to learn and use. Too bad IBM and Lotus aren't pushing it much anymore.

Recently I was asked to work on a project involving the use of Access, Microsoft's interpretation of a relational DBMS for the PC. Going into it, I thought it would be a snap and, like Approach, would be intuitive to learn and use. It wasn't. Everything I took for granted with Lotus Approach simply wasn't there in MS Access.

I even found their terminology hard to digest. Please keep in mind, I've taught data base concepts for many years, including normalization and object oriented concepts, and have used various DBMS products. Their terminology alone made use of the product awkward. Fortunately, MS has some decent on-line training in the use of the product and I began to plod along. But the training has its limitations and I inevitably ran into one road block after another, with few sources for finding answers. As an aside, will someone please tell MS that the F1 function key means "Help" regardless of where you are. God forbid they should ever add F1 help for field entries.

I'm still working on the project and am still not happy with Access. It seems for every step I take forward, I have to take two steps backwards. Frankly, I thought it was just me that was having a problem with the product. Then I read a recent blog entry entitled, "I Hate MS Access!" and boy did this guy let MS have it.

But I also have some friends who have grown up with Access and absolutely love it. I don't think its because of the features of the product, as much as they simply haven't seen anything else and don't know any better. Access may in fact be a good product, but I sure found it to be cryptic and awkward to use. And I suspect I am not alone in this regard.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


I received an e-mail from a Jeff Faber in Wyoming who wrote me regarding last week's essay entitled, "Using Information Strategically."

Jeff writes:

"I found your definition of information interesting. Instead of concentrating on data or output specs, you consider how the information is going to be used by the end user."

Thanks Jeff for your note,

Yes, if you truly understand how information is going to be used by the user, the better you can assemble the necessary data and processing components. The problem is, few analysts seem to know how to ask the right questions. Let me give you an example:

I am reminded of the story of the IT Director at a shoe manufacturing company who received a call from the corporate Sales Manager asking for some help on a pressing problem. The IT Director sent over one of his analysts to meet with the Sales Manager and discuss the problem. Basically, the manager wanted a printout of all shoe sales sorted by model, volume, type, color, etc. The analyst immediately knew how to access the necessary data and sorted it accordingly thereby producing a voluminous printout (three feet high) which he dutifully delivered to the user.

The IT Director stopped by the Sales Manager's office a few days later to inquire if the analyst had adequately serviced the user. The sales manager afforded the analyst accolades on his performance and proudly pointed at the impressively thick printout sitting on his desk. The IT Director then asked how the manager used the printout. He explained he took it home over the weekend, slowly sifted through the data, and built a report from it showing sales trends.

"Did you explain to the analyst you were going to do this?" asked the IT Director.

"No," replied the Sales Manager.

"Aren't you aware we could have produced your report for you and saved you a lot of time and effort?"


This is a classic example of the blind leading the blind. The user did not know how to adequately describe the business problem, and the analyst asked the wrong questions. Remarkably, both the Sales Manager and analyst were delighted with the results. The IT Director simply shook his head in disbelief.

Again, Thanks for your e-mail. Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567. For a complete listing of my essays, see the "PRIDE" Special Subject Bulletins section of our corporate web site.

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This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."



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