What Questions Should You Ask Your Digital Transformation Consultants?

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: February 9, 2024

Hiring a consultant can be a game-changer for your business. It's a decision that can lead to innovative solutions, fresh perspectives, and significant growth. However, asking the right questions is crucial to make the most out of this partnership. Here's a guide to help you navigate the key questions to ask your consultants, ensuring a successful collaboration.

Before we jump in, we need to discuss the role of a consultant - those mystical beings who swoop into your business with their briefcases and fancy jargon, promising to solve all your problems (for a modest fee, of course).

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The Grand Entrance

First, they arrive, often clad in suits sharper than a new set of steak knives. Consultants have this uncanny ability to make PowerPoint presentations look like modern art. They're like the wizards of the corporate world – wave a wand (or a laser pointer), and suddenly, everyone's nodding in agreement.

Masters of the Meeting Room

Consultants thrive in meeting rooms. They can stretch a simple concept into a three-hour meeting with the ease of a yoga instructor. And when you think you're lost in a sea of buzzwords like "synergy" and "paradigm shifts," they reel you back in with a complex magic quadrant that could be a modern hieroglyphic.

The Art of Saying What You Already Know

One of the consultant's most fantastic tricks is telling you what you already know but in a way that makes you want to pay for it. It's like going to a fortune teller who tells you, "I see... you work in an office!" and you're like, "Wow, that's so true!"

The Mystical Reports

Then comes their pièce de résistance – the report. This isn't just any report. It's a beautifully bound, 100-page document that makes your two problems look like the blueprint for world peace. You'll only read some of it, but it'll look impressive on your bookshelf.

The Vanishing Act

And just when you get used to having them around, deciphering their business lingo, and starting to understand their graphs – poof! They vanish. Off to another company in distress, ready to fire up another PowerPoint and rescue more lost souls in the boardroom.

In all seriousness, consultants are vital in providing expert advice, fresh perspectives, and solutions to complex business problems. But let's face it, their world can sometimes seem like a magical blend of wizardry, art, and just a dash of smoke and mirrors. And who knows, maybe that's the magic your business needs! 

What Should You Expect from a Consultant?

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Let's chat about what you should expect when you bring a consultant. Imagine you're inviting a friend who's good at solving puzzles – that's what getting a consultant is like.

Expertise & Fresh Eyes

First things first, consultants are like your go-to experts. They're the ones you call when you need fresh eyes on a problem. It's like when you're trying to find your glasses, and they're on your head the whole time – sometimes you're just too close to a problem to see the solution. Consultants come in with their experience and industry knowledge, and often, they can spot the issue quickly.

Consultants Not Magicians

Now, it's important to remember that consultants aren't magicians. They won't wave a magic wand and instantly fix everything. They're more like detectives, piecing together clues to determine the problem and how to solve it. Sure, they'll give you recommendations, but it's still up to you and your team to implement these solutions.

Expect Homework

Speaking of implementation, expect some homework. Consultants will do much of the heavy lifting, but they'll need your help. They will ask for data and insights and interview your team members. It's a collaborative effort – like a group project where everyone needs to contribute.

Communication is Key

Communication is super important. Good consultants keep you in the loop. They'll let you know what they're finding and the steps they're considering. Think of it like getting regular updates from a friend helping you plan a big party – you want to know what's going on and give your input, too.

A Clear Plan and Endgame

Finally, expect a clear plan and an endgame. A consultant should give you a roadmap of what they're doing and what the outcomes should be. It's like having a GPS for your business problem – you know the destination and have the route mapped out.

Wrapping Up

So, a consultant is your expert guide, your problem-solving partner. They're there to help you see what you might have missed, give you a plan, and work with you to get things on track. But remember, it's a two-way street – you get out what you put in. Keep those lines of communication open, and be ready to do your part!

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Your Consultant Should ALWAYS Be Independent 

Let's discuss why it's crucial for consultants, especially those in tech, to be both technology-agnostic and independent. It's like having a good friend who gives you advice on which phone to buy – you'd want them to be unbiased and not secretly pushing you towards a brand they're secretly getting paid to promote, right?

The Benefits of Being Technology Agnostic

  1. Unbiased Recommendations: If a consultant is technology agnostic, it means they don't have a one-size-fits-all approach. They're not married to any particular technology or vendor. This is great for you because it means they'll recommend solutions based purely on what's best for your specific situation, not because they have a preference or a partnership with a particular tech provider.
  2. Flexibility and Innovation: Tech-agnostic consultants are like those friends who are up for anything – they're flexible. They can think outside the box and are more likely to come up with innovative solutions that are a perfect fit for your needs. They're not limited by a certain tech stack, so they can mix and match the best solutions from the entire tech landscape.
  3. Future-Proofing: Technology changes fast. A consultant who is tech-agnostic isn't stuck in yesterday's solutions. They're more likely to recommend technology that solves your current problems and positions you well for future advancements.

The Importance of Independent Consultants

  1. No Hidden Agendas: An independent consultant is like a neutral referee in a football game – they don't play for either team. They're there to provide objective advice without any hidden agenda or conflict of interest. This means they won't push a certain product because they might benefit from its sale.
  2. Tailored Solutions, Not Sales Pitches: Independent consultants sell their expertise, not software or hardware. You're getting pure advice, not a sales pitch in disguise. It's like getting a recommendation from someone who doesn't care which brand you choose as long as it's the right fit for you.
  3. Building Trust: Independence builds trust. When you know your consultant isn't trying to sell you something, you can be more confident they're looking out for your best interests. It's like having a doctor who recommends the best treatment for you, not the one a pharmaceutical company sponsors.

In Conclusion

Having a technology-agnostic and independent consultant is like having a wise, unbiased guide in the rapidly changing landscape of technology. They help ensure that the solutions you adopt best fit your specific needs and goals, not clouded by bias or a hidden sales agenda. This way, you can make informed decisions that are truly in the best interest of your business.

Questions to Ask in the Consultant Interview Process

I sourced these questions directly from our consultants at Third Stage. 

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What's your Methodology

Their methodology should focus on understanding the client's unique needs, identifying core issues, and then implementing tailored solutions. They start with a thorough assessment, followed by strategic planning, and conclude with practical implementation and continuous evaluation. This approach ensures that they address specific challenges effectively and deliver sustainable results.

Do you Receive Commissions on Software

Always, no. 

What Non-Technical Competencies Could You Bring to our Project?

In addition to technical skills, they should bring a range of non-technical competencies to your project, which are crucial for its success. These must include strong communication skills, enabling them to convey complex ideas clearly and collaborate effectively with diverse teams. Their problem-solving abilities should allow them to tackle challenges creatively and find innovative solutions.

They must have proven project management experience, ensuring that tasks are completed on time and within budget. Additionally, their adaptability and willingness to learn mean they can quickly acclimate to new environments and continuously evolve their skills to meet your project's needs. Lastly, their leadership qualities and team-building skills help foster a positive and productive work environment.

How Many People are on your Team? 

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You aim to collaborate with an established company, but it's essential to avoid the unnecessary involvement of numerous junior consultants, often billed without a clear purpose. This issue is particularly prevalent with Big Four consulting firms, where clients can end up with a large team of less experienced consultants, leading to inefficiency and inflated costs.

What Is Your Experience in Our Industry?

Understanding the consultant's experience in your specific industry is vital. It gives you an idea about their familiarity with industry-specific challenges, trends, and best practices. An experienced consultant will bring expertise and insights from other companies they've worked with in your sector.

How Do You Approach Problem-Solving?

Each consultant has a unique approach to problem-solving. Some are more data-driven, while others rely on creative brainstorming sessions. Knowing their methodology will help you understand how they will tackle your business problems and whether their approach aligns with your company's culture and needs.

Are you a Solution or System Integrator?

Again, always no. 

Can You Provide References from Previous Clients?

References are like a sneak peek into your future with the consultant. Speaking to previous clients can provide insights into the consultant's working style, effectiveness, and ability to deliver on promises. It's a way to gauge their reputation and the satisfaction level of their past clients.

What Are Your Expected Outcomes and Deliverables?

It's crucial to have clarity on what the consultant will deliver. This includes understanding the tangible outcomes you can expect, the timeline for these deliverables, and how they align with your business objectives. Clear expectations help measure the consultant's performance and the value they bring to your business.

How Will You Measure Success?

Defining success metrics upfront is key. Knowing what key performance indicators (KPIs) the consultant will use to measure success and how these align with your business goals. This ensures that both parties are on the same page regarding the project's objectives and outcomes.

What Level of Involvement Will You Need from Our Team?

Understanding the level of involvement required from your team helps in resource planning. It clarifies how much time and effort your employees need to invest and ensures that your team is prepared and available to provide the necessary support.

Can we Keep Any of our Existing Systems, or Do We Have to Replace Everything?

It's not always necessary to replace everything. The key is to assess which of your current systems still meet your needs and can integrate smoothly with any new solutions. It's like figuring out which pieces of your old furniture still fit well in a newly renovated house. The goal is to blend the old and new effectively, ensuring they work well together for optimal performance and efficiency. An independent consultant can help you determine the best approach for your business without financial pressure to get you to buy something. 

What Is Your Fee Structure?

Discussing the fee structure upfront avoids surprises later. It's important to understand how the consultant charges – is it an hourly rate, a fixed project fee, or a performance-based fee? Knowing this helps in budget planning and evaluating the cost-effectiveness of the consultancy.

How Do You Handle Changes to the Project Scope?

Project scopes can evolve. Knowing how the consultant handles changes to the scope, including the process for approving changes and adjusting fees, is important for smooth project management.

What Support Do You Offer Post-Project Completion?

Post-project support is often overlooked but crucial. Ask about the support and training they offer once the project is completed and how they ensure a smooth transition.

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Conclusion

Asking these questions will help you select the right consultant for your business and set the stage for a successful and fruitful partnership. Remember, the key is open communication and clear expectations from the get-go. With the right consultant by your side, the possibilities for your business are endless. 

As I mentioned in this blog, I highly recommend downloading our 2024 Digital Enterprise Operations Report and following our weekly podcasts or YouTube channel for more on the holistic approach to business technology. Please also feel free to reach out to me directly at kyler.cheatham@thirdstage-consulting.com with any feedback or questions on this blog. My team and I are happy to be an informal soundboard for your project.

Kimberling Eric Blue Backgroundv2
Eric Kimberling

Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.

Author:
Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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