Choose between traditional, milestone consulting

Why are you here? More than a metaphysical question, many organizations may recognize the need for consultants but remain unsure about how to use them. Of the two consulting alternatives, traditional and milestone consulting, each has pros and cons. In a traditional consulting arrangement, a firm deploys a team of full-time individuals at a client site for 40 hours a week, typically four days at 10 hours a day per consultant.

Under milestone consulting, a client employs a consulting firm to check in with them on a regular basis, ensuring that the project is both meeting its individual goals and, from a broader perspective, remains on track. A client will often utilize a hybrid consultant, equal parts project manager, techie, and application expert, to visit on site every two weeks or so.

Given how much consultants cost, many clients might question the need to have a team of three or more highly paid hourly resources on staff for 40 hours per week. To be sure, there is more than one way to deploy consultants in a cost-effective manner.

As a general rule, the quality and number of required external resources varies indirectly with the quality and number of available and experienced internal end-users.

In other words, an organization with extensive internal resources and expertise needs fewer external consultants. Organizations cannot expect to successfully implement major systems exclusively with either consultants or end-users. Almost always, a combination of each is required. While not necessarily advisable, organizations are often able to handle relatively limited upgrades and enhancements in a “consultant-free” manner. Another consideration is end-user availability. Regular employees still have to do their day jobs in order for the organization to conduct business. For example, a payroll manager cannot set up, test, and document a new payroll system at the expense of paying current employees.

By the same token, the head of IT cannot configure security for one system while neglecting to fight the fires of another system.

This rule can alternatively be stated as follows: If an organization wants to minimize the number of external consultants on an implementation, it must ensure that the end-users on its implementation team are devoted regularly and significantly to the implementation of that new system and have sufficient expertise in that system.

A project’s time frame, issue complexity, and scope are also critical factors. All else equal, consultants called in to solve a discrete task with no particular due date may not need to show for months at a time.

Assuming an organization’s documentation is sufficient, a consulting firm may be able to perform the work required using the milestone approach. Conversely, consider a client with a bevy of complex issues, poor internal documentation, and a drop-dead date of two months to resolve an issue. It’s very unlikely that the client will be able to use consultants in a limited capacity. There are too many factors to determine the best type of consulting arrangement for any given client or project.

There are potential drawbacks to both the traditional and milestone consulting approaches and one size certainly does not fit all. To be sure, most organizations do not have the expertise that consultancies can provide. As such, organizations benefit from knowledgeable, on-site consultants who ensure that the project stays on course, issues are reported and resolved and individual objectives are met.

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