Managing Consultants

“An expert is someone who lives more than 50 miles out of town
and wears a tie to work.”
- Bryce’s LawINTRODUCTIONThe need for outside contract services is nothing new. IT-related
consultants have been around since the computer was first introduced for
commercial purposes. Today, all of the Fortune 1000 companies have consultants
playing different roles in IT, either on-site or offshore. Many companies are
satisfied with the work produced by their consultants, others are not. Some
consultants are considered a necessary evil who tackle assignments
in an unbridled manner and charge exorbitant rates. For this type of
consultant, it is not uncommon for the customer to be left in the dark
in terms of what the consultant has done, where they are going, and if
and when they will ever complete their assignment. Understand this, the
chaos brought on by such consultants are your own doing.IT consultants offer three types of services:
Special expertise – representing skills and proficiencies your
company is currently without, be it the knowledge of a particular
product, industry, software, management techniques, special
programming techniques and languages, computer hardware, etc.

Extra resources – for those assignments where in-house
resource allocations are either unavailable or in short supply,
it is often better to tap outside resources to perform the work.

Offer advice – to get a fresh perspective on a problem, it
is sometimes beneficial to bring in an outsider to give an
objective opinion on how to proceed. A different set of eyes
can often see something we may have overlooked.

Whatever purpose we wish to use a consultant for, it is important
to manage them even before they are hired. This means a company
should know precisely what it wants before hiring a consultant.ASSIGNMENT DEFINITIONBefore we contact a consultant, let’s begin by defining the
assignment as concisely and accurately as possible; frankly,
it shouldn’t be much different than writing a job description
for in-house employees. It should include:
Scope – specifying the boundaries of the work
assignment and detailing what is to be produced. This
should also include where the work is to be performed
(on-site, off-site, both) and time frame for performing
the work.

Duties and Responsibilities – specifying the types of
work to be performed.

Required Skills and Proficiencies – specifying the
knowledge or experience required to perform the work.

Administrative Relationships – specifying who the
consultant is to report to and who they will work with
(internal employees and other external consultants).

Methodology considerations – specifying the methodology,
techniques and tools to be used, along with the deliverables
to be produced and review points. This is a critical
consideration in managing the consultant. However, if
the consultant is to use his/her own methodology, the
customer should understand how it works and the deliverables

Miscellaneous in-house standards – depending on the company,
it may be necessary to review applicable corporate policies,
e.g., travel expenses, dress code, attendance, behavior, drug test, etc.

Many would say such an Assignment Definition is overkill. Far from
it. How can we manage anyone if we do not establish the rules of the
game first? Doing your homework now will pay dividends later when
trying to manage the consultant. Assignment clarity benefits both
the customer and the consultant alike. Such specificity eliminates
vague areas and materially assists the consultant in quoting a price.SELECTING A CONSULTANTArmed with an Assignment Definition, we can now begin the
process of selecting a consultant in essentially the same manner
as selecting an in-house employee. Choosing the right consultant is
as important a task as the work to be performed. As such, candidates
must be able to demonstrate their expertise for the assignment. Certification
and/or in-house testing are good ways for checking required skills
and proficiencies. Also, reviewing prior consulting assignments (and
checking references) is very helpful. Examining credentials is
imperative in an industry lacking standards. For example, many
consultants may have a fancy title and profess to be noted experts in
their field but, in reality, may be nothing more than contract
programmers. In other words, beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.Ideally, a consultant should have both a business and technical
background. True, technical expertise is needed to perform IT
assignments, but a basic understanding of business (particularly your
business) is also important for the consultant to adapt to your
environment. This is needed even if you are using nothing more than
contract programmers.In terms of remuneration, you normally have two options: an hourly
rate or a fixed price. For the former, be sure the work hours are
specified, including on-site and off-site. Many clients are
uncomfortable paying an hourly wage for an off-site consultant. Under
this scenario, routine status reports should be required to itemize
the work performed and the time spent. However, the lion’s share of
consulting services are based on a fixed price contract. Here, the
role of the methodology becomes rather important. Whether you are
using “PRIDE” or another Brand X methodology, it is important the consultant
and client both have a clear understanding of the project’s work
breakdown structure, the deliverables to be produced, and the review
points. From this, an effective dialog can be communicated in terms
of managing the project. Further, the methodology becomes the basis
for the preparation of estimates and schedules.After examining your candidates, it now becomes necessary to
balance the level of expertise against price. Sure, a senior
person can probably get the job done in less time, but perhaps
the costs may be too high for your budget. “Expertise” versus
“expense” becomes a serious consideration at this point.Whomever is selected, it is important that a written agreement
be prepared and signed. The agreement should reference the Assignment
Definition mentioned above and any other pertinent corporate
verbiage. Very important: make sure it is clear that the work
produced by the consultant becomes your exclusive property (not the
consultant’s). Further, the consultant shouldn’t use misappropriated
work from other assignments. Finally, add a clause pertaining to
workmanship; that the consultant will correct at his/her expense
any defects found; e.g., defective software, data base designs, etc.MANAGING THE CONSULTANTThe two most obvious ways to manage consultants is by having
them prepare routine status reports and project time reports. Such
reports should be produced on a weekly basis and detail what the
consultant has produced for the past week and detail his/her
plans for the coming week. You, the client, should review and
approve all such reports and file accordingly.A methodology materially assists in tracking a consultant’s
progress. As a roadmap for a project, the methodology takes the
guesswork out of what is to be produced and when. Without
such a roadmap, you are at the mercy of the consultant. Along
these lines, I am reminded of a story of a large manufacturing
company in the UK who used one of the large CPA firms to
tackle a major system development assignment. The system was
very important to the client, but lacking the necessary in-house
resources to develop it, they turned to the CPA firm to design and
develop it. Regrettably, the client didn’t take the time
to define the methodology for the project and left it to the
discretion of the CPA firm. The project began and the CPA
firm brought on-site many junior staff members to perform
the systems and programming work. So far, so good. However,
considerable time went by before the client asked the senior partner
about the status of the project (after several monthly invoices). The
senior partner assured the client that all was well and the
project was progressing smoothly. More time past (and more
invoices paid) with still nothing to show for it. Becoming
quite anxious, the client began to badger the consultant as
to when the project would be completed. Finally, after several
months of stalling, the consultant proudly proclaimed “Today
we finished Phase 1….but now we have to move on to Phase
2.” And, as you can imagine, there were many more succeeding
phases with no end in sight.What is the lesson from this story? Without a methodology roadmap,
it is next to impossible to effectively manage a consultant. The
project will lose direction almost immediately and the project will
go into a tailspin. The only person who wins in this regard
is the consultant who is being paid regardless of what work
is produced. Instead of vague generalities, you, the client,
have to learn to manage by deliverables.CONCLUSIONMy single most important recommendation to anyone considering
the use of outside consultants is simple: Get everything in
writing! Clearly define the work assignment, get a signed
agreement spelling out the terms of the assignment, and
demand regular status reports.I am always amazed how companies give consulting firms
carte blanche to perform project work as they see fit. Abdicating
total control to a consultant is not only irresponsible, it is
highly suspicious and may represent collusion and kickbacks.There is nothing magical in managing consultants. It requires
nothing more than simple planning, organization, and control. If you
are not willing to do this, then do not be surprised with the results
produced. Failure to manage a consultant properly or to adequately
inspect work in progress will produce inadequate results. So, do
yourself (and your company) a favor, do your homework and create a
win-win scenario for both the consultant and yourself.

NAFTA and the Management Consultant Dilemma

It is a common scene, repeated over and again at the various U.S.-Canada border posts. A young Canadian executive approaches an officer of the United States Department of Homeland Security, and hands her a small pile of documents prepared for him by the HR Manager of his prospective employer.”I’m here to apply for a TN visa,” declares the applicant.”In what category?”"Uh… Management Consultant.”The immigration officer glances at the documents with an air of distaste and tells the applicant to take a seat. Thirty minutes later the officer calls the applicant into an office and subjects him to a grueling hour of cross-examination.”What is this?” demands the officer, shoving a piece of letterhead in his face.
The applicant peers at the document. “It’s a letter from the company that wants to hire me.”"It’s too short and doesn’t describe a management problem,” says the officer, tossing aside the letter and pulling out another document. “How about this?”"That’s my resume,” answers the applicant, his face turning red.”Uh, huh…” says the officer. “Just what are you trying to pull here?”"What do you mean?” asks the applicant.”You’re no Management Consultant. You don’t have any management experience.”And so on…The result: Denial of the TN application. The reason: Either the position or the applicant do not qualify for the Management Consultant designation. The consequences: Lost time, lost money, loss of a potentially valuable employee, loss of a lucrative job opportunity, and humiliation.The Management Consultant Category – An Incorrectly Perceived Loophole
As most people involved in HR Management are aware, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has simplified the placement of certain Canadian professionals into high-demand jobs in the United States. As long as the candidate fits into the cookie-cutter professional categories listed in Appendix 1603.D.1 of the NAFTA, the interested company is able to avoid the longer processing times and higher fees associated with the H-1B visa.Most of the NAFTA categories require at least a bachelor’s degree. And as long as the candidate can prove he or she has the required education, approval of a TN visa is virtually assured. For example, a Canadian Engineer with a bachelor’s degree should have no trouble qualifying for a position as an Engineer with a U.S. company.A few NAFTA categories, however, allow for the substitution of work experience in place of a bachelor’s degree. One of these is the Management Consultant category, which allows “five years of experience as a management consultant, or five years experience in a field of specialty related to the consulting agreement” to substitute for a missing bachelor’s degree.Unfortunately, the Management Consultant category is incorrectly perceived by many HR Managers as a sort of “loophole” in the immigration law which allows them to place well-qualified candidates who have not completed a formal degree program, but who are otherwise qualified for the position offered because of their experience in the subject field.Thus, HR Managers frequently send non-degreed persons such as computer professionals with no management experience to the border, allegedly to accept a job in the States as a “Management Consultant”; or they send non-degreed candidates with management experience to the border, with the intent of placing them in long-term management positions with U.S. companies. Applications such as these are invariably doomed to failure.Why the Management Consultant Designation is So Difficult to ObtainUSCIS Free Trade Officers are well aware of the misperceptions that exist regarding the Management Consultant category. They adjudicate and deny countless bogus TN applications in this category on a daily basis. So whenever someone presents at a U.S.-Canada border with a TN application seeking admission through the Management Consultant category, the officer’s guard immediately goes up.While it is difficult for the officer to deny a TN visa when the applicant has a university degree, it is fairly easy to question whether a non-degreed applicant’s experience is “relevant” to the Management Consultant position offered. It is important to realize that U.S. immigration law gives its Free Trade Officers complete and unfettered discretion to make a decision on a NAFTA visa application. Denials are not appealable. So, when they have an opportunity to use this discretion, they do so…with a vengeance.Make no mistake: the Free Trade Officer will go through every word of a TN application, compare the applicant’s CV with her employment-based reference letters to look for contradictions and analyze the company’s cover letter and its financial statements. Finally, the officer will thoroughly grill the applicant with respect to her alleged prior experience and her proposed duties with the new company. Most applications in the Management Consultant category do not hold up under this type of scrutiny.So, What Exactly is a Management Consultant Anyway?Contrary to the belief of most HR Managers, a “Management Consultant’ (for purposes of U.S. immigration law) is not a manager. A “Management Consultant” is a consultant to management hired by an organization to help solve a particular short-term management problem. Free Trade Officers view these consultants as “hired guns”: they are hired to solve a particular problem, and then they must get out. Offers of company benefits such as retirement and 401K plans, stock options, and life insurance are inconsistent with this view. These types of benefits are all trappings of a permanent employee, not a short-term temporary employee.Therefore, at minimum, the company’s cover letter to the INS should state with particularity the management problem to be solved, the reason for the short-term need for an outside consultant, how the applicant is qualified to solve the problem, and the terms of compensation. The application should also include a detailed CV which documents at least five full years of relevant experience, as well as detailed reference letters from all past employers consistent with the CV. Contradictions between any of the above documents will be duly noted by the Free Trade Officer, and will likely result in the denial of a TN visa.The Effect of Past DenialsAll is not lost if a TN visa is denied by a Free Trade Officer. That same complete and unfettered discretion wielded by one Free Trade Officer empowers the next officer to re-consider an application as if presented for the first time, if the officer wishes to do so. Because of this, it is entirely possible for an applicant to be refused by one officer at Niagara Falls in the morning and admitted by another officer at Pearson International Airport in the afternoon, without any change to the application However, our firm does not recommend the latter approach, because some officers will perceive the same-day reapplication as an attempt to play the system.Our firm has successfully assisted a myriad of individuals who have been refused once, twice or even three times. (Of course, the more times one has been refused, the more difficult the case becomes.) Our task as experienced immigration lawyers is the same in all of these cases: a.) Complete evaluation of the Applicant and the Proposed Employment; b.) Selection of the Proper Visa Category; and c.) Assembly of the most USCIS-Friendly Visa Application Possible.Some RecommendationsIt is always better for all parties concerned if, instead of trying to handle important immigration matters on their own, HR Managers and potential TN applicants take the time to consult with an immigration professional prior to applying for a visa. The savings in time, money and frustration are well worth the investment. However, if they insist on handling these delicate cases on their own, it is helpful to keep the following in mind:1. A Management Consultant is a hired gun-a consultant to management hired to solve a short-term management problem;2. A Management Consultant should not be compensated over and above the base salary;3. A non-degreed applicant must have a minimum of five complete years of verifiable experience as a consultant to management or in a field of specialty related to the consulting agreement. Make sure you have the documents to prove all five years;4. There should be no discrepancies whatsoever between any of the documents presented to the Free Trade Officer;5. The applicant should be prepared to answer intelligently, and in detail, the officer’s questions regarding: a.) the applicant’s past experience, and b.) the management problem he or she is being hired to solve;6. A TN application must be made in conjunction with an “entry”. So, the applicant should not be instructed to drive to the border in advance to see if the officer will issue the visa; and finally7. Always remember that Free Trade Officers have complete and unfettered discretion to rule on NAFTA cases. Therefore, the applicant should present with as deferential an attitude as possible.

Why Is Management Consulting Important For Your Organization?

Management consulting has become essential for the companies which take the concept of branding seriously. Management consulting is one broad term which encompasses all areas of business management.Whether you are starting from the scratch or already an established corporate organization, seeking the services of the Management Consulting firm helps in improving your performance. Management consultants bail you out from existing business problems due to their relationships with various business organizations and also they are aware of the business practices existing in such places.Management consulting firms also assist in change management. According to the Wikipedia “Change management is a structured approach to the change in individuals, teams, organizations and societies that enables the transition from a current state to a desired future state.” Change management is one of the tedious jobs for Management Consulting firms. Businesses need to revamp themselves from time to time in order to sustain their identity. This change management is mostly dependent on the peoples involved in it. Most of the time it is found that organizations fear to incorporate the change management because of the fear of upsetting the scheduled work routine. So the need for change management arises if people wish the forward progression of the company and feel that change is necessary to keep the things going.HR consulting and project management are two of the various specializations of Management consulting. Human resources consulting or HR consulting helps the business organizations to refine their human resource processes. The HR consulting defines the employment philosophy, and business goals that are prevalent within the business organization. HR consulting is also delivered on issues pertaining to policy making, legal counseling, investments, appraisal management etc. Some of the HR consulting practices also include identifying the career paths, managing the organizational changes and helping out the clients with competitor research. Businesses who want to systematically handle their Human Resources activities always find it easy to employ a HR consulting service which will help them to find accurate answers to their HR queries.Project management is one of the specializations of the Management consulting, which involves initiation, planning, organization, project execution, resource management and closing that influences the success of a project. Project management is best described as the process which ensures that project is completed at predefined time adhering to constraints like scope, quality, budget and time. The minute tracking progress is very essential part of Project management to ensure the rapid progress and execution of each and every step of the Project. The most effective project management initiative will help you in developing a framework of the project which defines its principles, competencies and methodology related to work.So if you are aiming to build your identity in business world then don’t think twice to approach a management consulting firm.