Lessons Learned: Time Equals Money

As someone who has spent time as both a corporate employee that managed consultants and as a consultant, there are a few key things that I have learned and been burned by over the years and that is to make sure you have all of your “ducks in a row” when bringing a consultant in to your environment. By this I mean know your internal processes and timelines.

As a corporate employee I knew that it took several days to get a contractor setup on our network so I always made sure to start that process so that either the creation date was expected on their first day onsite or with as much notice as I could to minimize their wait. After all, let’s face the fact, if you have a consultant sitting in a desk but unable to access the majority of the resources needed to complete their tasks, you are throwing money away. When you have an employee working on a project, you want that employee to be as productive as possible, right? The same thing goes for consultants, if not more so. Often times consultants are viewed as high-priced rock stars that are supposed to be able to come in and knock out tasks in short order, but in a lot of environments that can’t be done without company provided access, i.e. network credentials, company hardware, server credentials, etc. Companies do not want to pay consultants long-term in most cases so when it takes several days to a few weeks to get the necessary credentials the only people it really hurts is the people paying the bills.

Another thing that I have learned can be a big time expenditure and/or unnecessary delays in productivity is not only knowing but communicating internal processes to consultants for their time/project management needs. There have been multiple occasions where project schedules are impacted because of a lack of understanding by the external consultants of the corporate processes. Most companies have various processes for change management, status reporting, testing, documentation approvals, etc. Because of the variety it is impossible for every consultant to know automatically what is required by each company without being told by those in the company. If, as a company, you know that it takes one week to go through the change management process to get approval for a production change/install that is good information to tell consultants up front or early in the process so that everyone knows the timelines and expectations sooner rather than later.

But this brings up a bigger problem: company staff is not always aware of timelines and processes of other impacted groups/departments. There have been projects that required firewall/network exemptions and other such things that may not be standard. Again, these are processes and limitations that the consultants would have no way to know existed until the company made them aware. The issue is that the consultant is usually not aware of these issues and timelines until it is too late and the consultants are often left twiddling their thumbs waiting for the internal processes to complete. Consultants can fill this time with additional testing, documentation efforts and things but by and large the project itself is delayed while this process goes through the motions and the consultant’s productivity is reduced. Once again, you, as a company, find yourself paying for a resource to complete busy work while everyone waits for an internal process that wasn’t adequately planned for in advance.

Much like my previous blog about how requirements can cost a company money, so can processes like these. To better protect yourself, your company and the project from these costly delays try to do the due diligence in advance of a consultant walking through your door. Understand what the consultant will need to do the job being asked of them. Will they need a network account? Will they need a company laptop/desktop? Will they need VPN access? Will they need additional server credentials? Are there applications that they will need to request access to for things like document submission, status reporting, time logging, etc? What are the processes to get these things done? How long does it take to complete? Are there any extra approvals that are required? Is there additional data that will be needed from the consultant(s) to start any processes prior to their arrival? If there are processes required but cannot be completed prior to the start date or via a third party request, what are those processes and can they be communicated so that the consultants are aware of what needs to be completed as quickly as possible? These questions and others need to be asked and answered internally as quickly as possible.

With any project, nobody wants delays. Nobody wants to feel like their productivity is being stifled or impeded because of a lack of understanding or communication. But as a company and a project manager you certainly don’t want to go over budget. Just like how knowing your requirements can help manage a project’s time and budget better, so can knowing and addressing things like access, known stops for approvals, etc. can help to avoid spending money for staff whose hands are bound by your internal corporate processes.