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Excellence in consulting: another viewpoint

Karol Szlichcinski presents a different view.

The earlier blog draws a distinction between the quality of consultants and consulting firms and the quality of the results they achieve.  This blog focuses on the quality of individual consulting projects.

Excellence depends on what kind of consulting you do

Management consultancy covers a range of different activities, including strategy, design and implementation of systems and processes, change management and even branding design.  It may be difficult to define excellence in a way that is appropriate for all these areas.  Some consultancy projects involve both design and implementation, but others do not.  Strategy assignments do not necessarily lead to the consultants implementing the strategy.  Change management consultants may not have designed the change they are managing.

The MCA has developed criteria for its Consulting Excellence award

The Management Consultancies Association has developed a set of criteria for judging projects submitted for its Consulting Excellence award, shown here.  The criteria are:

  • Clarity: a clearly identified goal, and a clear relationship between that goal and the chosen solution;
  • Originality;
  • Compelling written and oral presentation;
  • Quantifiable and measurable impact: demonstrable benefits, evidence that they are sustainable, evidence for support for the approach among target groups, and testimonials.

Some of the criteria, clarity and impact, clearly relate to the excellence of the consulting project itself.  Other criteria (compelling written and oral presentation) reflect the practicalities of running a competition of this kind.  The remaining criterion, originality, bridges both categories.  An excellent consulting solution does not necessarily need to be original, but an innovative solution demonstrates an additional dimension of excellence.  Using originality as a criterion also makes it easier to differentiate between projects submitted for an award.

The MCA Consulting Excellence award criteria appear to favour projects where the consultants have been heavily involved in both design and implementation of a change.  Of course, assignments which do not involve both of these components could also demonstrate excellence.

Consulting projects can demonstrate excellence at different levels

Consultants can look to related disciplines for approaches to defining excellence.  A framework for defining project success developed by project management specialists suggests that a consultancy assignment could demonstrate excellence at five different levels:

  1. Process excellence: the various processes making up the assignment are expertly carried out, e.g. carrying out an employee satisfaction survey, analysing the survey data;
  2. Project management excellence: the assignment is delivered on time, on budget and as specified in the proposal;
  3. Deliverable excellence: the outcome of the assignment meets client expectations, and target groups are satisfied with it; this could be the delivery of strategy recommendations or the design and implementation of a new business process;
  4. Business excellence: the assignment brings demonstrable and sustainable business benefits; a proposed strategy, when adopted, does indeed lead to increased market share and profits, the new business process yields cost savings and improved customer service;
  5. Strategic excellence: the assignment brings strategic benefits; a strategy brings lasting competitive advantage, a digital transformation project opens up a whole new field of business.

In practice a consulting assignment might demonstrate excellence at some levels but not others.  For example, a project might overrun its schedule, and some of its component processes might not be perfectly executed, but it could still produce excellent deliverables and have excellent results at the strategic level.

Consultant and client both contribute to consulting excellence

Consulting projects are created jointly with the client.  At the very least the client commissions the project and agrees the project definition.  If the project includes implementation, the client organisation is intimately involved.  Consultant and client co-operate to achieve excellence.

Date
Thursday 6th December 2018
Hands over keyboard