When a company goes looking for a consultant, it typically needs an answer to a problem that it is having trouble solving with internal expertise. That's an uneasy position for some companies. You don't know exactly what you need, yet you must identify a key resource that, in all likelihood, is going to make or break your project.
Our partners at project management community gantthead.com have compiled a Guide to Effective Consultant Selection and Contracting that lists the key bases to cover while selecting your next consultant. The guide, which is available free to IT Business Edge members here in the IT Downloads library, addresses the whole scope of finding a consultant, from internal needs assessment to contract stipulations.
Not surprisingly, the project managers at gantthead suggest that you treat hiring a consultant like any other IT project. The first recommended step is to establish a cross-functional Selection Team that includes not only various disciplines across the company, but also team members from different management strata. This will help avoid the common pitfall of "top-heavy" consultant selection. Let's face it, the further away from actual daily project management a VP is, the more susceptible they are to spin and unrealistic promises. Build a reality check into the process.
The guidelines also suggest that you quantify, as best you can, the advantages of hiring consultant, as opposed to just tackling the initiative internally. Consider these key points:
There's a wealth of good advice in the four-page document, including an admonition to develop a contingency plan in case the consultant leaves unexpectedly, which is always a risk. There's also a 9-point section on evaluating the basic skills and personal fit of consulting candidates.
If you are in the early stages of deciding whether to use a consultant on a big project, you should also be sure to check out How to Manage Outsourced Projects, which is also available here in the IT Downloads library. The 17-page PDF offers very detailed advice on sending projects out-of-house that can apply equally to single consultants or international services companies. There's a ton of information on RFPs (which you might well not need for a single-consultant hire) and the universally sound advice to plan for more documentation than you think you might need.
Monday, we'll dig into advice on crafting a contract with your consultant after you've narrowed your search to the best candidate.