Quarterly Update – December 1996
The chief executive officer of one of our clients once asked me, "What's your product?" I answered that my product was a project's deliverables, such as a report or computer program. But, we both realized that neither of us could satisfactorily answer that question.
That question caused me to think about why clients need a consultant. In many cases, the consultant provides skills or experience that the client lacks; in some cases, the consultant has capacity to handle a large project that the client lacks. But, in all cases, the client has a need or problem that they want addressed. The client is really not interested in the consultant's deliverables directly – the report or computer program has value only if it makes the client's problem go away. Simply put, the consultant's "product" is a solved problem.
Why Consulting Projects Fail
If the consultant's product is a solved problem, then a failed product is an unsolved problem. Why do consulting projects fail? There are many possible reasons, but I believe that most consultants are typically better at presenting a concept or analyzing a problem than delivering a finished product. Thus, the root cause of failed consulting projects is this – most consultants are better at painting the Big Picture than delivering a finished product.
We find that most clients have a clear concept of the Big Picture goal they want to achieve, but they need help to evaluate alternatives in achieving that goal and to implement the selected alternative. Although many people think it is harder to come up with the Big Picture, it is actually much harder to implement the concept.
For example, a new client recently asked whether we could help them implement a purchase order system to help improve budgetary control. This client, knowing the Big Picture, was faced with two alternatives:
- Buy a purchase order module from their main systems vendor and have it installed, but the personnel who would use it concluded that it would be difficult to use and that it would not work well from the client's twenty-eight remote locations.
- Seek out another alternative which would be better suited for their needs.
We worked with this client to understand in detail the process they wanted to implement, then proposed a Lotus Notes application that would deliver their desired process. Lotus Notes would also allow this client to achieve a key systems objective – replacing Microsoft Remote Mail, which was becoming corrupt at several remote locations every month. Our client chose the latter alternative because it more closely matched their needs and desires.
How to Implement the Big Picture
Many consulting companies have traditionally hired MBA's with little practical experience. Clients are frequently unimpressed with these consultants because their skills and experience are not appreciably better than those the client possesses.
Our specialty is helping clients implement the Big Picture. To this end, we take a different approach in hiring – we value a strong mix of educational achievement, professional certification, and workplace success. This has been our formula for success, and will continue to be our formula – because it allows us to help our clients implement the Big Picture.
If you have questions or comments on the content of this update, we would love to hear from you, especially if you had a disappointing experience with consultants who can paint the Big Picture but fall short of its implementation.
We appreciate the opportunity to help our clients implement the Big Picture.
Todd L. Herman
Client Project Update:
I am pleased to provide you with an update on our client projects. Projects we have completed over this period are...
Developed a Lotus Notes Application for a Construction Contractor
Developed a Lotus Notes application for a construction contractor that builds dealerships for a Big Three auto manufacturer, allowing the contractor and the manufacturer to jointly manage the site selection and the construction process.
Developed the Annual Budget for a Law Firm
Developed the annual budget for a law firm, working with the partners to set goals for fees and profit and to develop the management skills of the partners.
Served as Interim Finance Director for a Non-profit Company
Served as interim Finance Director for a non-profit company, supervising all daily functions, preparing government reports, and helping to transition the new Director.
Reviewed a Manufacturer's Custom-Developed AS/400 Application
Reviewed a manufacturer's custom-developed AS/400 application, which generates inventory accounting entries from production transactions and standard cost information, identifying ways to make the application more useful to both Accounting and Operations.
Presented Customized Training on Database Design
Presented customized training on database design, query, and reporting techniques, tailored to our client's specific environment, providing participants usable information along with eight hours of CPE.
Future projects we are planning include...
Manufacturing Transaction System
Define extensions to the functionality of an AS/400 manufacturing transaction system to include automated vouchering, enabling a potential 50 percent reduction in Accounts Payable workload.
Sales Force Compensation Planning
Assist a distribution company in designing a more effective and motivating compensation plan for the sales force, helping align this plan with new aggressive company growth and profit objectives.
Implementation & Support
Provide implementation and ongoing Lotus Notes support to a mid-sized CPA firm on the West Coast, allowing the firm to implement and use Lotus Notes without hiring an additional in-house systems professional.
Design & Implement Expenditure Control System
Design and implement an expenditure control system for a publicly traded company with twenty-eight sites in twenty-two states, using Lotus Notes as the tool to develop the application, allowing quick approval and frequent updates on expenditure status between the corporate office and the remote locations.
Identify & Select Suitable Vendor
Identify and select a suitable vendor for a comprehensive set of financial software for a health care insurer, providing our client with a recommendation and justification report within a short time frame.