Relate the size of the contract to the risks involved.  Contracts for minor assignments (less than £30,000) should be, at most, a two-page document.  In most cases it could be all contained in an email with a confirmation or a simple signature, on the email, with the words “agreed as outlined above”.

We do need to ensure that we invest an appropriate amount of time in pre-selection.  The bigger the project the more time we invest.  As a guide, spend at least one day in the recruitment process for every £30,000 of consultancy budget.  Keep things in perspective by avoiding having the same procedures for smaller assignments.

Market the consultants in-house

The right consultants, in the right place, at the right time offer many benefits and these need to be actively marketed in-house.  Here are just some of the reasons why you may wish to use consultants:

  • To mentor the in-house project manager so they can undertake the project
  • Their wealth of knowledge on better practices
  • To hone the in-house project manager’s management skills
  • To bring in an outside perspective that is not corrupted by the in-house culture or thinking
  • Their successful track record of implementing similar projects

If your consultants have been employed for these reasons, then the senior management team (SMT) needs to actively market them in-house, prior to the project starting.  One manager commented that if the SMT does not market the reasons for the consulting assignment and the benefits of the particular consultants (their success stories, etc.), then it is no surprise that management and staff resent the consultants being foisted on them.

Downstream effects of poor marketing of consultants are that meetings with the consultants are treated as negotiable, promised deliveries are not met, and so forth. It is no surprise that consultants work better in a receptive environment where they can blossom; even a cactus needs water.

 “A prince who is not himself wise cannot be wisely advised”

Regrettably, many managers do not have the skills to manage large complex projects, let alone handling the additional requirements when adding consultants to the mix.  That is, if you do not have strong in-house project management skills, contracting them in will not solve the problem.  Project management skills must reside within the project manager, the project sponsor, and the SMT.

Where skills in project management are lacking in any of these three areas, chaos often reigns.  The SMT needs to fully understand project management techniques so they can be forewarned and take the necessary actions when their large projects are going off-track.  Many of the large failed projects that I am aware of have been screaming for help during much of their life and in many cases the SMT was helpless due to the huge gap in the team’s knowledge and experience.

It is not uncommon for young enthusiastic managers to be given the headroom to extend beyond their level of competence on large projects.  The common symptom in these cases is that the management team, up to and including, the SMT could do no better or were no wiser.

My suggestion is to play to your skills.  Do not have big projects if you are not a big-project organization.  It is as simple as that.  Then you will not need to keep a loaded 12-gauge shotgun ready to shoot the messenger.