This Week in Consulting Wednesday, October 23rd 2019 Technology is not the only driver for Change...
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst you can do is nothing. ” – Theodore Roosevelt
Consulting projects are all about initiative and being proactive. Starting with your winning RFP process that has attracted a score of proposals, the assessment phase now begins. Keep in mind that the real goal is solving a problem for your company, not simply buying a service.
Let’s talk about the quality of a proposal and touch on some important and relevant points.
1. How the most promising proposals differ from the rest?
So you have received a sufficient number of proposals. On an extensive project, your short-list might still be significant. So if you want to spend enough time on each proposal, funnel down to potential winners, and set aside the rest. Think of the process as a funnel into which you pour all the proposals.
At the narrow end, you will have the most promising proposals. At the very least, these meet every one of your RFP’s criteria. The proposals are convincing, and you have a clear picture of how the project would unfold. The number of proposals is adequate, considering the strategic importance and the budget of the project.
A bit higher up the funnel are the proposals that are slightly off-track but still workable. Maybe they have a good rationale but have missed an inconsequential step. You want to avoid eliminating a potential gem too early in the process.
At the very top of the funnel are the proposals that are off-topic or too generic. Resist the impulse to dismiss all the other proposals, not yet. And keep in mind the process is not over until you have signed a contract with your preferred consulting provider. Don’t rush into rejecting the second-runner. You’d be surprised to learn how many first-runners are disqualified during the negotiation process.
Don’t overlook a proposal from an upstart consulting provider with a great idea but less than desirable proposal-writing/presenting skills. There might be a way to implement that idea, in part or fully, into your business solution.
Be careful not to burn bridges when you send your response to potential consulting suppliers with rejected proposals, regardless of how you view their current bid. Here’s why: in an environment of rapid change, these consultants may evolve into great partners or future suppliers.
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2. How a team of proposal evaluators improves your chance for success?
You have now the proposals in hand that, at first glance, meet your eligibility requirements and your other basic criteria. It’s time to get serious and pick your evaluation team.
Who might be a part of your team of reviewers? Procurement professionals naturally, and the person in charge of the consulting budget, if any. You should also include the main stakeholders, such as the project sponsor and representants of the functions directly impacted. Perhaps a senior executive or two, who has experience with consulting. Ideally, the team of reviewers should be the team that worked on the RFP.
Seeking input from a range of stakeholders helps to ensure that the evaluation process is perceived as fair and is more likely to result in selecting the best proposal for your project.
If your team lacks deep experience in the area of procurement processes, consider including a qualified and experienced consultant on the team to help you build a process designed to procure the best solution for your company.
3. How a team of proposal evaluators improves your chance for success?
It is essential to make sure that all your evaluators agree on a few basic principles:
The winning proposal must answer your project’s objectives.
The chosen approach will reinforce and support the overall purpose of the project.
The consultants must have the right competencies.
The selected consulting suppliers must be a good fit for your corporate culture.
Agree on the type of approach that would be best considering the context of the project and your culture. Maybe you are looking for an innovative, original, breakthrough, or transformational approach that your company can leverage to accelerate your strategy. Alternatively, you may want a proven and reliable approach.
Ask the team to review the proposed solutions along the lines of problem resolution, clarity, internal consistency, and ease of implementation, as well as outside-the-box approaches.
4. What are the necessary and critical requirements for the Consulting firm?
There are some prerequisites to work with your company. And making a preliminary check can disqualify a consulting provider right away and save you some time.
Consulting firm eligibility
Many companies have a strict registration process that includes lengthy verifications. Make sure that your consulting firm is already registered, or your project eligible for an exceptional procedure.
It might sound bureaucratic, but it will give you a sense of the commitment of the consultants and their ability to serve your needs. A consultant that remits a proposal late, incomplete, or not compliant to the format has either not understood your needs or doesn’t want to adapt to your ways. In both cases, you have a problem.
Ethics and values alignment
Working with the wrong consulting firm can hurt your reputation internally and externally. Make sure that your supplier’s values are aligned with yours.
Potential conflicts of interest check
Some internal consulting groups are providing consulting to external clients. Working with the main competitors from their parent company would clearly be a conflict of interest.
Employees work authorization
With the globalization of the consulting projects, more and more clients are looking for providers outside their regular market. It is not unusual for a European company to win a project with a U.S. company, and vice versa. When you are working with a company that will fly their consultants to your premises, make sure they are authorized to work in the country and your industry.
5. How the Consultant sees and understands the objectives?
Obviously, you are bringing the consulting provider to help you achieve a certain goal. You want them to understand well your objectives and help you identify and implement a solution.
6. Has the consultant properly researched your company’s context?
A bid with limited details about your needs usually screams a narrow understanding of your business, a rushed or a generic proposal, or all of the above. Be uncompromising on that point.
7. Did the consultant reformulate your needs and put them in context?
You want to make sure that the consultant answers your questions and adds some value, rather than just copy-pasting your RFP.
8. Is the proposal introducing elements that don’t seem related?
Several reasons can explain this phenomenon. The first option, you are facing a “cookie-cutter” syndrome. The Consultant is copy-pasting a previous proposal for your project. The second option, they have seen an objective that you had missed in your RFP. In both cases, you want to challenge the consultant to make sure the deliverables are right for your company. You need to buy what you need and only what you need.
9. Do the deliverables completely satisfy you?
Once you have made sure that the consultants have understood what you were trying to do, you want to check if the deliverables they have included in the proposal will indeed answer your questions.
Clearly listed main deliverables
It is essential to ensure the Consultants have answered all the key points of the scope, and that you can compare the core of the proposals.
Back to your RFP, identify all the expected deliverables, and check one by one if they are included in the proposal. Get a sense of what is outside the scope in the bid. Sometimes the consultants take the initiative to reorganize the deliverables and regroup them. Make sure all your initial deliverables are still there.
Additional deliverables relevant to your needs
In some cases, the consultants add deliverables that were not listed in the RFP. Have a close look at how they relate to your main objectives. It can be an interesting addition or just a way for the consultant to increase the scope (and the price). If the deliverable is relevant, ask yourself if it is a must-have or a nice-to-have.
10. Do you trust their approach?
Does the proposed approach support your objectives?
Evaluate the approach proposed by the Consulting provider. Is it what you had in mind? Does it make sense? Is it adapted to your needs? What are the potential limitations of the approach that the consultant is suggesting? Will this approach support a proper buy-in?
11. Is the timeline proposed aligned with your expectations?
Does the timeline match your internal objectives? If not, is it a major issue? Have the consultants explained why they changed the timeline?
12. Is the phasing consistent with the one in your RFP?
Consultants love to cut a project into multiple phases. When you compare the different proposals, make sure that each phase contains the same work and the same deliverables. It is not uncommon to see a Consulting firm descope or underprice the first phase to win the project and generate more substantial costs in further phases.
For very large projects, we recommend to include phasing and commit only to the first phase in the first RFP. The further phases will be handled through another RFP. It will force the winner of the first project to do a good job, and remit competitive pricing at each phase of the project.
13. Is the governance of the project well defined?
Sometimes the difference in price for two proposals comes from the difference of responsibilities (and thus workload) of the consultants vs. your teams. How will the governance of the project be organized? How is the project managed at the steering level? At the working level? What support from your teams is expected at each stage of the project?
14. Is the project resourced properly?
Considering the workload associated with the project, does the staffing seem sufficient? And on the opposite, does the team seem oversized?
15. Will you have enough bandwidth to contribute?
Successful execution is based on cooperation and a balanced workload. Will you and your team have enough availability to support the project?
16. Is the project team senior enough? Will they be credible with your teams?
What is the level of seniority of the partner in charge? Is he taking the responsibility of the project or delegating that to someone more junior? What is the level of experience of the project team? Will this work with your teams?
17. Are you confident the consultant will work well with your teams?
And last but not least, looking at the interactions you had and the composition of the team, do you expect this consultant to work well with you and your teams? And to be a good fit?
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“The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle.
Synergy is really what most Clients and Consultants aim for when joining forces on a project. There are logic and advantage in synergy, and that’s how a single project creates extra value.
The best way to view your Consulting project is this: You are not making a purchase, but solving a problem – don’t look at the means, but focus more on the outcomes you expect from the project.
When you work on your RFP, there are 8 points to consider in regards to the other elements:
1. Approach to the selection process –
Clarity and transparency in the selection process matters a lot and can make a big difference in the quality of the product you will receive. You need to communicate and describe to the prospective providers how the selection process will unfold.
First, let’s outline the key milestones for the RFP process. It is important for consulting candidates to understand how much time they have to prepare and submit their proposal. It will also give them an idea on when the project could start.
Usually, at this point, you should have signed a Non Disclosure Agreement with the potential candidates. Even if this step is not mandatory, we highly recommend protecting your confidentiality.
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2. Stages in the RFP process –
Distribution of the RFP and intention to Bid
Questions and Answers pre-proposal submission (Answers should be shared with all participants)
Timeframe for the reception of the proposals
Short-list and feedback
Project kick of
3. Stakeholders engagement –
It’s advisable to get several stakeholders involved. They can participate in the selection committee, and organize face to face discussions with the finalist (or you can leverage new technologies like Skype, Zoom, and Google hangouts).
And now let’s have a look at the proposal’s content.
4. Proposal’s content –
Give some background information about who you are – Unless you are working exclusively with companies you already know (but not always a good idea), you need to let them know about your organization.
Explain the context of the assignment – A project is rarely unidimensional. Understanding the political and technical implications of a project is key to design a customized solution to your problems.
Detail your expectations in plain English – Put on paper the benefits and documents you expect from the project but also the constraints you might have.
To enable proper comparisons, do not hesitate to specify in your RFP a few expectations of the proposal and from the consultant, for example, you can include:
A description of the objectives pursued, the approach and deliverables, the planning for the project highlighting the key milestones as well as the project management structure proposed (including the contribution required from the client).
Demonstration of competence, also the consulting firm should provide references on similar projects (industry/capability), the CVs of the actual consultants that are expected to work on the project and examples of thought leadership they have produced in the field.
Fees and workload should be detailed enough to enable a clear understanding of the cost structure associated with the project.
Finally, you should describe how the Q&A between sending RFP and receiving the proposal will be organized. When should the question be sent? How will the answers be shared with the consulting providers.
5. Sharing your decision’s criteria –
Your selection criteria and expectations of the proposal have to be explicit. In principle, you know already how you will perform the selection. If not, well, that is the right moment to think about it. Selection criteria are usually a blend of components such as:
The capability of the firm to get the job done – Leveraging feedback from previous clients on previous projects.
The expertise of the firm in the required field – Ideally, the consulting firm should provide some thought leadership or position papers in the niche.
The clarity of the approach and the deliverables – You need to understand if the deliverables are those you expect but also to understand how the consultant intends to get there.
The composition of the team – You need to make sure that the consultants who will work on the project daily have the right seniority and experience.
The fit with the company – In short, do you think you will work well together? Will they have the right impact and recognition with your peers?
The price of the project – Can you afford their services? Are you getting a clear value for your money? Are there hidden fees to be considered?
As you can see, these considerations are much broader than the sole price. Even though there is no magic formula using clear criteria, communicating them to the Consulting firms early in the process is key for getting a high-quality proposal, and taking informed and fair decisions.
6. Providing schedule and budget clues –
Whether your project is urgent or not, you likely have a timeline in mind. Or at least some internal deadlines or meetings. Knowing your schedule for the project is key for the consulting candidates. It will directly impact the team composition and the cost of the project.
Users and buyers rarely include their budget in the RFP. However, if you are on a very tight budget, it can make sense to include that information in the RFP to make sure that you don’t lose time for proposals you cannot afford. Besides, the consultants will be able to come up with trade-offs or design-to-cost proposals.
7. Indicating your other requirements –
You might have other requirements that you want to include in your RFP. For instance, you might be interested in having references and contact information to check the references. You can also have some eligibility criteria linked to your internal procurement policies. Maybe your consulting providers have to be registered as a provider.
8. Giving a single point of contact –
You also need to define the main point of contact during the process. Will it be someone from procurement, one of the executives, or even a third party? All the interactions with Consulting firms during the RFP process should go through that person. Letting the Consulting firms connect directly with the Executives of their choice would give an advantage to the incumbents and distort the competition.
Ready to get started on your next Consulting project?
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Please give us a call today, at no obligation.Let’s get the conversation started.
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“More important than the quest for certainty is the quest for clarity.” – Francois Gautier
The most important factor probably for the success of your Consulting project, is the “why” behind it. What is the purpose of launching your new project, and what are your main expectations of it? As we talked about crafting an effective RFP and engaging in talks with a few prospective Consulting providers, you will gradually sharpen your view and clarify all aspects of the project. Clarity is extremely important and based on many years of experience, we’ve made a short list comprised of the most effective techniques you can use.
1. Set the scope right –
It is not unusual to realize when you start explaining your needs that you are embracing a scope too large, or that the project could be broken down into smaller pieces. The main objective here is to provide a high-level overview of the problem. And adjust the scope that is best suited to the purpose of the entire project.
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2. Provide the basics and be precise –
Start with giving the basics. What is the state of your industry? What are the main challenges you are facing? What have you done so far? What would you like the Consultant to help you with? Here is a good example to help you grasp the points: “Slow Economic Growth in Europe, in particular, compared to other markets, has limited the growth of the Insurance Industry. After a slight increase in 2017, growth went down again in 2018. In 2016, new European regulations, namely Solvency 2, started to get implemented. As a result, the pressure on risk and compliance functions increased significantly. European politics could also impact the regulatory stance in major markets.
As a result, Risk is becoming more than ever a core function in the organization. Insurers need to adjust business processes and strategies to this new environment.
In 2017, Insurance Co created a Risk and Compliance team at the group level to supervise the implementation of Solvency 2 in the different business units.
Insurance Co would like now to review the various options for organizing its risk activities at the corporate and business unit level and identify the most efficient set-up while taking into account the position of the regulators on this critical matter.”
At first sight, it sounds like a simple organization design project. However, if you look closer, some key elements seem to be missing.
The context doesn’t give any information about the results of the existing Risk and Compliance team. Why does the corporate team want to re-organize the risk function only two years after the creation of the team?
There is no mention of the political dimension of the corporate relationship with business units, which is often a key element in an organization project.
It might also be interesting to provide some benchmark on existing models and anticipate the position of the regulator.
3. Give a clear idea of where you are in the process –
Your Consultant needs to know all these elements that will help them understand exactly where you are on the path to success, and design a proposal customized to your needs.
You can also define the high-level questions you want to answer with the project, such as:
What is the existing performance of the industrial set-up? How do we compare it with the competitors’?
What are the high- and low-performers by function?
What are the different opportunities to harmonize the organization structure?
What are the best options to improve the efficiency of the organization based on an internal benchmark?
For each option, what would be the impact/risks to consider? The associated costs and potential benefits?
A first high-level assessment shows a potential of 7% of savings that will contribute to the overall synergy objective of the merger.”
4. Write the description –
Once the context is set, you can move to the description of your requirements for the project. In your RFP make sure to integrate the questions consulting firms would ask to be able to provide the solution tailored to your needs. You can use a sparring partner or another member of your team to review it and ensure the context is clear and accurate.
5. Focus on the value Consultants will bring –
There are many ways consultants can generate value on a project, but very few of them can guess what you expect if you don’t state it plainly. The best way to start is to reformulate your problem statement at the start of this section.
Remind the consulting firms included in the RFP process what are the objectives, and the expected outcomes. If you have specific expectations regarding benefits, now is probably a good time to express them.
The high-level objective can be clearly defined in a few lines. However, many roads if not all of them are leading to Rome. You might need to add some precisions on the scope, the level of confidentiality and also who should be involved on your end as well as your timeline for the project.
6. Aim for clarity with “what” not “how” to do it –
There is a fine balance when describing the expected deliverables. Some companies tend to provide the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ at the same time. However, as soon as you start describing how the consulting firm should produce the deliverables, you lose the creativity and the experience an external provider can bring in. You automatically reduce the consulting firm to an externalized workforce. This situation can work if you know very well the job to be done but it does not constitute a best practice.
Our experience shows that, even if you might be tempted to specify the methodology, it is important to leave room for the consultants to propose how they would approach the issue. This allows to adjust later on and will most often provide you with fresh perspective.
7. Add any important additional information –
Each project is different, and often clients can omit details that pertain to the project, their circumstances, or the niche market. Do not hesitate to add additional information that could be implicit for you but Consultants who are less familiar with your company cannot anticipate:
Do you expect the consultant to do everything on his own or do you anticipate a joint team?
Will the work be performed on site?
Is there a preferred location? Specific language requirements maybe?
Do you have specific requests regarding knowledge transfer at the completion of the project?
Are there additional “side questions” that should be addressed?
And now the final key question –
Describe how you intend to proceed with the selection process? This way, you can guarantee a fair process and ensure that Consulting companies will decide to participate.
Ready to launch your next project?
We will be happy to help. Please give us a call today, at no obligation.
And let’s get the conversation started
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