Consulting is More Than Technical Knowledge

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I’m having a row with MarketUP, a consultancy in online marketing we’ve employed this year at LLP Group and systems@work to sharpen up our websites, our Google AdWords campaigns and our use of other marketing channels. In fact, I fired them yesterday.

marketing consultants

As so often, the ostensible reasons for our row are one thing, and the resentments and disappointments that fuel our row are another. From my point of view it isn’t so much about what they know or didn’t know, or did or didn’t do, as about their style as consultants.

Online marketing advice is in short supply. Everyone wants to improve the way their business is presented, and there are ever more sophisticated tools to use – websites (where fashions change with depressing rapidity), Google AdWords campaigns, LinkedIn pages and ads, blogs (such as this one) and specific campaign-oriented micro websites. These must be consistent in terms of content and style. It takes specialist knowledge that you’re not likely to have in-house, to use these tools well.

True, MarketUP did a good job of improving the graphical styles of our websites and microsites, but I was concerned at the start that most of their work had been in the area of B2C (business to consumer) where traffic is high, messages are relatively simple, and sales, in terms of units, are numerous.

In our world, of business software and consulting, messages are complex, target markets are very specific, traffic is low, and sales, in terms of units, may be fewer than twenty a year.

I’d actually had some success with Google AdWords campaigns. Over the last five years and more I’ve tracked the costs of our systems@work AdWords campaigns and the revenue derived from them. The results look like this (revenue blue, cost orange):

adwords

It’s a good story, but it doesn’t reflect much recent success. Once we’ve ‘captured’ a client, revenue rolls in for as many as ten years. In fact, over the last two years we’ve added very few new clients directly through our Google AdWords campaigns.

It was to address this issue that I turned to MarketUp. They presented themselves well and seemed to know as much as anyone in this area and their price was reasonable.

But consultants need more than knowledge. I have written extensively on this (see The Art of Consulting). Consultants need to ask good questions, they need to listen, they need to understand the underlying needs of their client, they need to take responsibility and do much more than deliver mere technical expertise. Telling what they know is just a small part of the job.

Things began to go wrong when it became clear that they didn’t really understand our products and couldn’t come up with the Ads that would speak to our potential clients. In the end I had to write these myself. I didn’t mind and I wasn’t surprised but MarketUP were curiously reluctant to admit any kind of fallibility.

And in the end the AdWords campaigns they put together were no more effective than those that came before, and over six months I’ve had not a single good lead from the site. I’d hoped that a website redesign (and I accept wholeheartedly that the new site for systems@work is immensely more attractive than before) would attract more visitors and contacts, but it didn’t.

Of course, consultants cannot guarantee success, and there is no online marketing agency in the world with the specialist knowledge to predict how online marketing can best be used for our particular products and market. But that was not my issue with MarketUP.

What has really annoyed me is their response to challenge and criticism. They kept insisting that ‘measurements’ showed that the website and campaigns were performing better, as if there could be any measurement of importance that matters to me other than obtaining good leads, of which there were none.

When criticised for their failure to put together Ads that made sense they were simply defensive.

And when, finally, there was a vast misunderstanding about a project to improve our natural listings, they made no attempt to see things from my point of view, or to understand that I only had one simple objective, to obtain more good leads through paid campaigns or natural listings.

It was their reaction to criticism that made me see red. I cannot remember a single occasion over the last year when they have admitted error.

And as far as I can recall, they provided no scoping documents, no memoranda of understanding, at any time to document their understanding of our needs.

It’s a lesson in consulting. Technical skills are essential, but there’s far more to consulting than knowing things. You must ask well, listen well, document well, understand well, and manage well, and you must respond well to criticism.

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The Art of Consulting – Some Golden Rules

Over the last few weeks I’ve published a torrent of thoughts on the non-technical skills that all consultants need, whether they are working in IT consulting, engineering, law, architecture, or any other profession. These non-technical skills are ones that range from listening and questioning to presenting and managing others.

As we develop as consultants and take on more responsibility the more complex skills of making judgements, managing projects and people become as important as the basic skills of finding things out and writing things down. When I deliver my training course on these non-technical skills I try to set down the content of the course to a set of Golden Rules.

golden rule

Listening

A good consultant never talks more than he or she listens.

Questions

A good consultant never runs out of questions. Be Pedantic about Detail.

Documenting and Representing

How you structure and represent information depends on your purposes and will reflect your views and argument.

Writing

Write simply, without cliché, without repetition, without exaggeration, without the use of jargon.

Designing

Make things as simple as possible. (If something doesn’t make a difference don’t include it.)

Judgement

Tell your client what to do. (Or, putting it less bluntly….Advise.) Remember that you are responsible only for what you can control or should know.

Always admit errors. Apologise. Never lie. Never seem evasive.

Presenting

Don’t read the bullet points. Be brief.

Say what you will say. Say it. Say what you’ve said.

Above all, do Not be Dull. (If it doesn’t interest you, then it’s certainly not going to interest anyone else!)

Persuading

Persuasion is most effective when it is quiet and reasonable and acknowledges alternative points of view

Planning

Planning is part of every second, minute, hour, day, week, month and year of a consultant’s life. Planning is much more than project planning.

Managing

Managing is the art of getting others to want what you want. Managers should manage by agreement, never by command.

Customers

The Customer is Always Right. (But not if he is unreasonable. And not if you know he’s wrong. Defend your position when you need to, but do not be defensive.)

Selling

If you are a good consultant, your client will want you to be commercially successful. Selling and Consulting are not distinct. Value must be added at every stage of the customer life cycle.

See also:

The Art of Consulting

The Art of Consulting – What’s the Role of the Consultant?

The Art of Consulting – Impartial, Honest and Independent

The Art of Consulting – The Essential Skills

The Art of Consulting – Listening

The Art of Consulting – What’s a Good Question?

The Art of Consulting – Representation and Analysis

The Art of Consulting – Writing Simply

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Completeness & Simplicity)

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Pragmatism)

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Affordability, Flexibility, Maintainability, Elegance)

The Art of Consulting – Judgement

The Art of Consulting – Presenting

The Art of Consulting – The Final Report

The Art of Consulting – Persuading

The Art of Consulting – Planning

The Art of Consulting – Managing Others

The Art of Consulting – Clients

The Art of Consulting – Selling

The Art of Consulting – Selling

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For many consultants the idea that they might sell their skills is anathema. They prefer to delegate such activities to sales staff, who, supposedly, aren’t offended by the grubby world of money – of price, of fee rates, of raising invoices, handling disputes and getting paid.

Consulting, they like to believe, is about ideas, about working in a collegiate, almost academic, atmosphere, with clients who are almost friends. And when do friends ever need to talk about money?

salesman

Your idea of a salesman?

Such consultants (and I have been one of them) will work extra hours without payment, and are motivated by their fascination with the work they do, rather than by the material rewards that follow. Their clients love them, and their work is often, but not always, profitable.

But the idealistic approach is ultimately dangerous. Your client may love you, but you’ve still got to pay the rent. If there are consultants of this kind, doing far too much for their clients, willing always to accommodate additional demands, to extend the scope of a project without commercial discussions, I can only think that this must reflect some kind of insecurity, as if they are uncertain of the value of the analysis and advice they are delivering. It certainly isn’t the basis for a healthy relationship between consultant and client.

And if a consultant thinks of sales activities as in some ways contemptible, this merely reflects a misunderstanding of sales staff and what they do.

My own experience as a manager and entrepreneur is that the best sales staff are those who have formerly been consultants, though I shared some of these ‘uncommercial’ views when I was a young consultant. Like consultants, sales staff must listen more than they speak, ask penetrating questions and demonstrate knowledge, wisdom and pragmatism. The good ones don’t sell the impossible, don’t promise more than their consulting team can deliver. They know what they are talking about, and they will only convince a client to buy their services if the client recognises that knowledge. After all, you can’t sell ideas if you don’t understand them.

Selling consulting services is a difficult task. You must be proficient, not only in the technical matters of your profession, but also in the particular skills of selling, which include:

  • Qualifying – determining if the potential client is serious, has a budget, needs the services you are offering, has the time to devote to the project you are proposing, and ensuring that the people you are talking to are in a position to make a decision
  • Scoping – agreeing as precisely as possible the scope of services being proposed, shaping them into affordable packages, especially if there’s a need to prove your value
  • Pricing – determining the price that a potential client is willing to pay (this is the area where the timid consultant is most likely to fall short!)
  • Persuading – understanding and overcoming the particular objections of those involved in the decision to buy
  • Demonstrating Competence – showing deep understanding of the client’s needs, and demonstrating competence by fielding all the appropriate skills the company has to offer
  • Providing References – using strong relationships with current clients to gain the confidence of the potential client

..and there are many more.

The point is that almost all of these are skills that are close to the non-technical skills that all consultants must possess. They are the usual consultants’ skills, simply extended by techniques such as ‘solution selling’. If you are a good consultant you can be a very good salesman.

But beyond the special task of working on a sales opportunity, there are sales skills that all of us must demonstrate daily as consultants. We must always be ready to promote our company, our brand, our special knowledge, our methods, or any of those other things which differentiate us from our competition. This doesn’t mean parroting slogans or nagging our clients for additional work, it means confidently supporting and promoting our skills whenever opportunities arise, and, through good questioning, seeking them out. After all, if the client is rational, he or she is buying your services because the benefits outweigh the costs.

A certain kind of diffidence is understandable. Many of us see every side to a question, and when we put forward advice to our clients we do so in the circumstances and with the view that on the balance of probabilities the course of action we suggest is the best. We are not always certain and we often lay out the risks as well as the options. But this doesn’t mean we should not be confident in our skills, and if we are confident in our skills we should be confident of the value that we offer to our clients, and reasonably expect payment for what we do.

In fact, we usually find that our clients want us to be successful, that they respect us well enough to want to pay us for our time. It isn’t a zero sum game and most clients don’t negotiate as if our gain is their loss.

If ‘selling’ means identifying opportunities that will bring benefit to our client as well as to ourselves, then we must all be ready to ‘sell’. And if someone suggests you might be a good sales person, don’t be offended. It can be a good career move into a very respectable profession.

See also:

The Art of Consulting

The Art of Consulting – What’s the Role of the Consultant?

The Art of Consulting – Impartial, Honest and Independent

The Art of Consulting – The Essential Skills

The Art of Consulting – Listening

The Art of Consulting – What’s a Good Question?

The Art of Consulting – Representation and Analysis

The Art of Consulting – Writing Simply

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Completeness & Simplicity)

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Pragmatism)

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Affordability, Flexibility, Maintainability, Elegance)

The Art of Consulting – Judgement

The Art of Consulting – Presenting

The Art of Consulting – The Final Report

The Art of Consulting – Persuading

The Art of Consulting – Planning

The Art of Consulting – Managing Others

The Art of Consulting – Clients

The Art of Consulting – Clients

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If we’re honest, there probably comes a moment once or twice in our careers when we think we’d be better off without our clients. We’re tempted just occasionally to think that without our clients’ demands we’d be free to do really good work.

Of course this is nonsense. After all, the customer is always right.

customers

Well, no, that’s nonsense too. The customer is very often wrong, but what this oft-repeated dictum really means, is that we must always treat our clients with respect, even if we disagree with them.

I have friends who have worked as receptionists at hotels and I’ve heard horror stories about how guests behave, angrily demanding favours from staff who don’t have favours within their gift (upgrades mainly), furiously lambasting them about problems they are powerless to solve, behaving rudely, impatiently, insultingly.

As consultants, we’re luckier than receptionists, on the whole. In our line of work our clients are usually:

  • Clever
  • Reasonable
  • Friendly
  • Efficient
  • Respectful
  • Helpful
  • Stimulating
  • Even fun

But the truth is that sometimes they can also be:

  • Lazy
  • Arrogant
  • Unreasonable
  • Disrespectful
  • Angry
  • Hostile
  • Predatory
  • Stupid
  • Misleading
  • Pursuing a surreptitious agenda
  • Contradictory
  • Political
  • Even drunk

Clients are rarely even one of these bad things, but the way you work with them must accommodate all of these from time to time.

A criminal lawyer has a hard time defending his or her client if the client doesn’t tell the truth. An architect can’t design a building if the client can’t decide how may floors are needed. A business strategist can’t present an idea to a group of drunk and angry men.

What makes the relationship sometimes additionally more troublesome, or complex at least, is that your client isn’t always a single monolithic, consistent entity. Your client is sometimes a group of individuals, each with his or her own knowledge, prejudices, fears, ambitions, and emotions.

But enough about those few BAD clients. Clients are, on the whole, wonderful. We depend on them for our livelihood, we depend on their knowledge, their ideas and their cooperation, especially if our consulting projects are to be successful. We depend on them for their approval and their recommendation. And we learn from them.

Over the course of thirty years as a consultant I’ve learned about the manufacture of televisions, of medicines, and of chocolate, about the extraction of sugar from sugar beet, about aeroplane refuelling, about the management of professional services, and about dozens of other disciplines, and in all of these fields I’ve learned not just about how these things are done technically, but about how the people who do them are managed and motivated. There is no better business education than the education a consultant is paid to acquire through contact with a multitude of industries. Better than business school any day.

As you learn about your clients you learn how to conduct your relationship with them too. You are at once a  ‘supplier’, a confidant, an adviser, and an intellectual sparring partner. You must do what you’re told and you must tell your client what to do.

So clients cannot be, first and foremost, your friend. Your relationship is ‘professional’ and, of course, commercial. Clients may become your friend, but it’s not through friendship that you achieve your goal. Friendliness yes, but not friendship. Friendship can get in the way of your goal because it imposes constraints on your behaviour that undermine your impartiality.

The key to a happy relationship lies in the management of expectations. Client and consultant should both know what to expect of each other. Where instinct and experience don’t supply this, the rules must be written down.

In all circumstances the best approach is openness and honesty, enthusiasm but always a certain distance, precise documentation and communication, and a clear set of rules established from the start. To protect yourself and your project from all the bad things that clients might occasionally be:

  • You will insist on detail if it’s needed and verification if you’re not sure that what you’re being told is true
  • You will be honest about what you know and what you must find out. A client cannot expect you to know everything
  • You will respect confidentiality
  • You will be reasonable about delays but point out the inconvenience and the likely consequences, if an agreement has been infringed
  • You will draw attention to contradiction
  • You will accept criticism without defensiveness, but not if it is unreasonable.
  • You will apologise for mistakes, accept any liability, and correct them if you can
  • You will not accept anger, and will remove yourself from any situation where emotion runs too high
  • You will not be a witness to unreasonable behaviour by your client towards his or her staff, and you will remove yourself from the situation if possible
  • You will not be bullied into working unreasonable hours or into accepting unreasonable deadlines

A consultant is neither a hired hand nor a slave. He or she is a man or woman of independent mind.

Most clients and consultants have an instinctive understanding of the rules. But where there is even a suspicion that this is lacking I like to put forward a Consulting Charter that clarifies the terms of engagement between the two parties. This may cover topics as diverse as what may be considered reasonable use of a private mobile phone, how long a lunch break might be, and the proper procedure a client should follow when making a complaint. The rules may be hard to write down, and they are often unnecessary, but you must always have a common understanding with your client as to what is reasonable and what is not.

See also:

The Art of Consulting

The Art of Consulting – What’s the Role of the Consultant?

The Art of Consulting – Impartial, Honest and Independent

The Art of Consulting – The Essential Skills

The Art of Consulting – Listening

The Art of Consulting – What’s a Good Question?

The Art of Consulting – Representation and Analysis

The Art of Consulting – Writing Simply

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Completeness & Simplicity)

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Pragmatism)

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Affordability, Flexibility, Maintainability, Elegance)

The Art of Consulting – Judgement

The Art of Consulting – Presenting

The Art of Consulting – The Final Report

The Art of Consulting – Persuading

The Art of Consulting – Planning

The Art of Consulting – Managing Others

The Art of Consulting – Persuading

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In the mid-1980s I worked for a large IT services company in London. Every so often the company arranged an away-day, a sort of troop-rallying exercise in a good hotel with plenty of food and drink to lubricate the message. We troops would sit through a series of motivating talks, the usual graphs and bullet points, though it was before the days of PowerPoint, so all of these were printed on slides and projected using an epidiascope.

These were the relatively early days of the corporate presentation and I was new to the whole exercise. I almost enjoyed it. I remember the CEO’s presentation as especially impressive. There was a picture of the Queen at one point, and a dog, but I can’t now remember why. He brought a touch of irony to the proceedings that made his talk stand out from the rest. As I recall, he ended by asking all the salesmen in the room to stand up. A few rather self-consciously struggled to their feet (salesmen drank more at lunchtime that we consultants did).

‘What about the rest of you?’ the CEO asked, ‘Why aren’t you all standing?’

It’s a tired trick, but not so tired that I haven’t tried it myself from time to time. Yes, of course, in a sense we’re all ‘salesmen’ even if our job title doesn’t include the word. We must all present our company in a favourable light and keep our ears pricked for potential opportunities. Some consultants aren’t cut out for this, and however good they are at their job, they’re almost ashamed that money should be demanded in return for what they do. But some are good, or very good. Indeed, in my organisation some of the very best salesmen (even those with the word ‘sales’ in their job title) have formerly been consultants.

Selling projects is one thing, and not all of us are suited to the argy-bargy of negotiation, but selling ideas is another. If we’re advising our clients, and if we firmly believe in our advice, then at the very least we must persuade, and there’s an art to that too.

Persuading

The most important point about persuasion may sound counterintuitive. It is that, as in almost all situations, it’s better to listen than to speak. You won’t win by wearing people down with words. And , after all, you already know what your opinion is (I would hope) and why you hold it. But you may not know in advance what your client’s opinion may be, how he has understood your reasoning, what his objections may be and what motivates them. He may disagree as to the facts, he may disagree as to your reasoning, or he may raise issues that you haven’t considered (certainly judgements as to the pragmatism of your advice may differ, since the client’s knowledge of his organisation is likely to exceed yours). Finally, he may object irrationally, for all kinds of emotional reasons.

So you must listen very carefully to understand the motives behind your client’s objections. Of course, you should already be aware of some of them, especially if they’re based on disagreement as to the facts. If you’re not aware of these, then your project hasn’t been managed well. By the time you come to make your case you should be aware of opposing views, findings and interpretations.

Listening is essential if you’re going to persuade. You can’t just disagree, and mount a direct assault on your client’s opinion. You mustn’t be aggressive but you mustn’t be defensive either. You must always behave and persuade in a way that allows for compromise and even defeat. You can be enthusiastic about your opinion, but not emotional. You mustn’t seem so wedded to your view that compromise or defeat will seem like a personal affront or contempt for your professional skills. Whatever you do or say, you must not put your professional relationship with your client at risk. As with all negotiations you must have a number of compromise positions prepared in advance.

I have always hated training courses that aim to teach you a thing or two about human behaviour. They’re often based on a few bogus ideas from behavioural psychology. I studied psychology at university and developed, during those three years, a lifelong aversion to the subject. But on one ‘interpersonal skills’ course I attended in the early 1990s I learned something useful. The subject was ‘how to be assertive’. If you want to assert your own point of view, to persuade others of its merits, and to prevail, we were taught, you must strenuously demonstrate that you understand your opponent’s (or client’s) point of view. You begin your argument by showing that you have listened to and understand your opponent’s point of view. You might even flatter.

‘It’s interesting that you see it that way,’ you might begin. ‘I can understand that from your point of view, with all your experience it would seem obvious that it should be done that way rather than the way I’m recommending. Indeed, I’ve seen similar circumstances where that is exactly the right course of action, and where what you’re recommending has worked. It often makes sense. BUT……..’

And then you go on to explain why the circumstances, or the logic are different in this case. It doesn’t always work, but often it does. And even if it doesn’t, you’ve demonstrated an understanding of the client’s point of view, perhaps even to the point that you may be persuaded of it. Whatever happens, you’re more likely to reach a compromise without endangering your relationship.

Arguments and ideas are lost if your client thinks you don’t understand his position, or if you seem too emotionally attached to your own, or if he thinks you’re concealing some deeper agenda, or if you’re arrogant, or if he suspects you think he’s stupid. You’ve got to be reasonable and likeable at all times.

When you’re persuading, always take account of what will work for your particular audience. Get the level of detail, and the level of informality right, and always understand the motivation of your audience.

Persuasion is most effective when it quiet and reasonable and acknowledges alternative points of view.

See also:

The Art of Consulting

The Art of Consulting – What’s the Role of the Consultant?

The Art of Consulting – Impartial, Honest and Independent

The Art of Consulting – The Essential Skills

The Art of Consulting – Listening

The Art of Consulting – What’s a Good Question?

The Art of Consulting – Representation and Analysis

The Art of Consulting – Writing Simply

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Completeness & Simplicity)

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Pragmatism)

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Affordability, Flexibility, Maintainability, Elegance)

The Art of Consulting – Judgement

The Art of Consulting – Presenting

The Art of Consulting – The Final Report

The Art of Consulting – The Final Report

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Many of us approach the end of a consulting project with a sense of dread. Not because we fear the unemployment that might follow, but because we must usually write a final report for our client, and most of us don’t like writing.

Final Report

Part of the discomfort we feel may stem from the fact that a final report must be definitive. Until we put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, our ideas are provisional, our arguments sketchy, our evidence incomplete. We may have formed a well-founded opinion, perhaps even an instinctive one, but we may not yet have fully marshalled our arguments and our evidence. The report we must write must demonstrate conclusively, consistently and coherently that we have brought knowledge, experience, imagination and reason to the process of consulting. This requires intellectual effort, and getting the brain started on the business of thinking hard isn’t always easy. It’s like going to the gym after a long day at the office.

Which is why it’s often a mistake to leave report writing to the end. My own experience of consulting is that writing things down, or representing and analysing them is part of the sifting, constructing, creative, solving process. Often I don’t know what I think until I put my thoughts into words. On the page, on the screen, words must meet higher standards of coherence, clarity and logic. Faults in reasoning, weaknesses in solutions, become apparent when we put them into words and represent them in pictures.

So it’s best to start writing at the very start of a project. Write down your assumptions, your findings, your ideas, the issues you haven’t yet resolved as soon as you can. It doesn’t always matter if your jottings lack structure. As things come into focus, you’ll find that you can rearrange your text, delete what isn’t useful, and gradually arrive at a structure that makes some sense. Writing is part of the intellectual and creative process.

Of course, some don’t need to do this. Think of Mozart. He could imagine an entire symphony, complete with orchestration, and writing it down on paper was merely a chore. But few of us are Mozart!

Although I advocate a piecemeal, early start to report writing, a final report should conform to some sensible conventions. The best test of what it should contain is to imagine an interested but uninformed reader who will come to your report knowing nothing about the project.

The reader will want to know:

  • Why the project was commissioned
  • What was the project’s scope
  • What was assumed
  • What was deliberately or inevitably excluded
  • Who worked on the project (from the client’s as well as the consultant’s organisation)
  • Who wrote the report (and who revised it)
  • What was the project’s method
  • What were the findings
  • What are the recommendations
  • What are the next steps
  • What are the dissenting views, if any

I like to present everything at three levels of detail.

  • A summary (often, inexplicably, called an Executive Summary as if senior managers need read no further)
  • The main body of the report
  • Appendices containing supporting detail

Summary

The purpose of a summary is twofold. First, for some (lazy?!) readers it may be sufficient (as the Bluffer’s Guide to Opera might alleviate the social discomfort of an evening of Grand Opera). Second, it signals in advance the direction of the complete report, so that you can read at the second level with the authors’ conclusions in mind.

So, for example (using the traditional bullet-point style):

  • This project was commissioned with Board Approval by the Logistics Director to examine the cost and reputational damage resulting from inaccurate stock data relating to the company’s ten warehouses
  • The project team investigated and documented current stock management procedures, visiting each warehouse and interviewing all staff involved in stock movements, and was able to determine the probable source and consequences of mistakes
  • Stock handling procedures are inconsistent and prone to inaccuracy. Stocktaking, as well as reconciliations between issuing and receiving locations, are not methodical. Current problems result in losses of sales (estimated at 140 K EUR annually), overstocking (average 12%, representing 80 K EUR of working capital) and reputational damage (unquantifiable)
  • Manual procedures should be replaced by a simple company-wide off-the-shelf computerised system
  • The cost of implementing such a system need not exceed 100 K EUR, with ongoing annual costs of 25 K EUR and an implementation project could be completed in six months, requiring the full-time attention of one senior manager in the logistics department for that period, and two days a month of IT time
  • The next step should be to commission a description of the stock management procedures to be supported, and then to seek tenders for software and implementation consulting

The Main Body of the Report

The main body of the report will elaborate on this summary.

  • Background will describe in more detail why the consulting project was commissioned, citing examples of the issues it should address
  • Scope will define the limits imposed on the project (e.g. it should exclude certain kinds of warehouse (stationery, for example) and should not tackle the issue of item identification, etc.). It is as important to exclude explicitly as to include explicitly
  • Participants will list members of the project team, what they do, and what their role on the project will be, and all contributors to the project (for example, those interviewed for their opinion)
  • Author(s) will list all contributors to the document and the dates of versions and revisions
  • Assumptions will list agreed assumptions relevant to the project (e.g. that the company has provided a complete list of relevant staff to interview)
  • Exclusions will list any relevant data or opinions that cannot be obtained, and the reasons (e.g. that the logistics department were unable to provide any documentation on inventory procedures)
  • Method will describe how the project team carried out its work (referring to any supporting documents (e.g. questionaires) in Appendices)
  • Findings will summarise all facts relevant to the report’s recommendations (referring to detail in Appendices)
  • Recommendations will lay out a number of suggested courses of action, with priorities and costs
  • Next Steps will lay out what should be done next in order to implement the recommendations
  • Dissenting Views (a rare section) will identify disagreements as to findings and recommendations

Appendices

These provide additional information that a reader may examine in order to judge the reasonableness of method, findings, recommendations, etc.

In all cases language should be plain and simple, persuasive but not emotional. Brevity, clarity, and readability are the goals. Do not be dull, if you can avoid it.

See also:

The Art of Consulting

The Art of Consulting – What’s the Role of the Consultant?

The Art of Consulting – Impartial, Honest and Independent

The Art of Consulting – The Essential Skills

The Art of Consulting – Listening

The Art of Consulting – What’s a Good Question?

The Art of Consulting – Representation and Analysis

The Art of Consulting – Writing Simply

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Completeness & Simplicity)

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Pragmatism)

The Art of Consulting – Designing (Affordability, Flexibility, Maintainability, Elegance)

The Art of Consulting – Judgement

The Art of Consulting – Presenting