It is common for organisations to require the services of an external consultant for specialist services. Shane Rendalls provides a guide to getting what you want from your consultants.
If chosen wisely, the investment in a consultant can offer significant benefits; leveraging external experience, knowledge and technical skills to deliver a cost-effective solution to the problem at hand.
If chosen haphazardly, you can spend a lot of money and time as well as experience frustration to reach an outcome that doesn’t meet your needs.
To ensure you always choose wisely, consider these six key steps to make the selection of a consultant easier and achieve value for money.
- Think about the problem
- Prepare a short (100-150 words) background for the project. Why are you doing this?
- Prepare brief dot points describing what you want from the project; such as:
- Key objectives
- Who needs to be consulted and how
- Key deliverables and what they should look like
- Major milestones to monitor progress
- How you want to be kept informed of progress – regular email updates, progress reports, regular meetings/teleconferences?
- Do you want the engagement to provide learning and development opportunities for your staff?
- Write down what a successful outcome would look like to you. Imagine at the end of the consultancy you are describing the project to a colleague and telling them what worked well.
- Discuss the project with a few consultants
Most consultants will be happy to give you and your team 1-2 hours to discuss and work through the problem you want to address, different approaches and the resources required. Consultants appreciate the opportunity to meet with you, as a well-prepared project brief makes it easier to design an approach and proposal that will meet your needs and budget. It is also an opportunity to develop their profile and keep them attuned to what is happening in the sector.
What you get out of it, a platform to test your ideas before releasing a tender for consultancy services. Remember the more specific you are, the better placed the consultant is to give you what you want. So, do not ask for a whole bunch of nice to haves, as this will expand scope and cost. Keep focussed!
- Finalise your tender
Use the information from the preliminary meetings with consultants to finalise your tender or EOI document. The following structure works well:
- Cover page- Tender summary
- Upper price (if there is an upper limit)
- Date for commencement of project
- Date of final deliverable
- Key contact
- Deadline for responses
- Process for submitting responses – email (to whom); hard copy (where/address)
- Selection criteria (larger tenders)
- Requirements of the project
- Background to the project
- Objectives and scope
- Consultation requirements
- Key deliverables
- Timeframe for major milestones, draft and final deliverables
- Pricing and costing
- Days and rate of people working on the project, by each key component, inclusive of GST
- Project costs, by type – on-costs, travel, etc – inclusive of GST
- Payment schedule – based on deliverables/milestones
- Examples of other relevant experience
- Referees – at least three from relevant projects undertaken by key team members working on this project
- Project team and CVs.
- Short listing potential consultants
- Check your organisations policy on procurement. For smaller projects, most organisations can send a request for proposal or EOI to several consultants. Larger projects may require an open tender.
- For smaller projects:
- Who have you worked with previously?
- Talk to colleagues about consultants they have used and would recommend
- Consider a sector Bulletin Board
- Is there a Panel of Consultants list you can access? For example, state health departments have panels of pre-approved consultants across a range of skillsets.
- Posting your tender
- Include a clear timeframe for responses
- Provide a contact for requests for further information
- Indicate if you want consultants to provide an indication of interest
- For fairness, some services will email questions and answers to all consultants who have provided an indication of interest.
- Use a selection criteria:
- Based on the requirements of the project specified
- Weighted to reflect relative importance
- Take the time to read through each proposal carefully:
- Does it flow and tell a story, taking you through each step of what will be delivered and how it contributes to the overall outcome
- If the proposal doesn’t read well or make sense, it is an indicator that the deliverables won’t either
- Check that the time allocated against key staff matches the tasks proposed:
- Look for experts placed on teams to win the work, but who don’t have the time allocated to do the work
- Ensure the selection committee separately rate each proposal against the selection criteria
- Beware the mystical black box – unless there is a highly technical component (and even in this case unlikely) the approach and method should be easily understood:
- Why are they proposing to do this step of the project?
- What value will it add to the overall project?
- What are the resources allocated to this step?
- If you don’t understand something; speak up:
- If there are steps that do not add value, or not in scope, ask for these to be removed and for the price to be reduced
- If there are steps missing these may need to be added
- Have consultants submitting proposals come and present their proposal to answer your questions?
- Ask for a best and final offer.
If you are planning a large and significant piece of work, it may be worth considering the engagement of a consultant to help you prepare your tender and work through the procurement process.
Shane Rendalls is an Associate Lecturer with the St Vincent’s Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW and a partner of Synergy Health and Business Collaborative and cofounder of BeHeard. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org