The 6 Steps a consultant MUST DO to propose the Right Operational Excellence assessment

Decision process of the consultant

In the modern business world, the importance of performing the right operational excellence assessment at exactly the right time in an organisation's life cannot be overstated enough. Oftentimes, these assessments come out of a need to obtain an in-depth, unbiased overview of a business' current capabilities. This usually comes about after managers identify certain operational issues that need to be addressed. Only by gaining the clearest possible picture of where you stand will you have a chance to identify what isn't working and, hopefully, what steps need to be taken to adequately correct those issues.

Recently, we took a deep dive into the process of deciding and preparing for the right operational excellence assessment from the point of view of business managers. That process involved five steps that began by looking at the likelihood that an implementation project would be necessary after analysis, and gave those professionals a chance to consider the "bigger picture" in the context of the scope of their work, the hierarchy of business priorities, and more.

In this document, we'll look at the exact same process but from a slightly different point of view: that of the consultant. Quickly, you will begin to realize that there is a lot of overlap in these two positions. However, there's also a lot that is different and, because of that, this is all more than worth exploring through a similar-yet-separate lens.

Whether you're an internal or external consultant, you've been contacted by a manager with the specific task of performing an operational excellence analysis. In order to effectively do that, you need to be able to quickly identify the right analysis to perform depending on the situation : no two organisations are created equally in the first place, to say nothing of how truly different a lot of the challenges you'll be faced with solving will often be.

Likewise, you want to maximize your chances of winning the deal and start a long-term relationship. This, too, will depend on several criteria and things get especially tricky if there is a need for an improvement action plan after the diagnosis. You cannot craft the right sales pitch if you don't know exactly what it is that you're selling, after all.

When the type and complexity of certain problems can no longer be solved by a standard managerial approach, one enters a completely different situation, which quickly becomes complex. The solution that a manager is looking for can be a relatively simple "change management" approach, or a much more complex "transformation" approach. Both cases, at different levels of importance, require a specific approach with dedicated people (project mode), specific change management capabilities, more complex stakeholder management (including the political agenda), budget approval, involvement of HR and personal representatives... This is part of what you need to identify during this diagnosis, and the only way to do this is to first choose the right diagnosis to perform.

This is a guide, not an absolute truth

As was true with the other version of this document, you will likely find yourself in a lot of situations where you're being forced to ask questions without easy answers. Sometimes, you may not even be in a position to ask the question to begin with - this is particularly true for external consultants. Some of these steps may require you to take a more "roundabout" approach, which means you'll need to "educate" your clients to get the answers you need as opposed to challenging them to provide you with that information.

Likewise, this document is intended to provide guidelines, not absolute truth. There are always some factors that will vary wildly depending on the company and its people that will require you to make adjustments based on your own experience and common sense on the fly.

This document is primarily focused on the steps you take before an operational excellence assessment is ever performed in the first place. There are many steps that you can and should take during the analysis itself. However, performing the wrong analysis puts consultants at the risk of failing to satisfy their own customers. This will lead to an almost immediate loss of reputation, which can also cause you to lose a significant amount of money by focusing all of your attentions on the wrong detail. In other words, you'll go through a great deal of time and effort and fail to generate results you or your client can actually use.

This will likely result in eliminating the possibility that you'll be the one to perform the implementation project, which again will cause a significant amount of long-term harm to your business.

The purpose of this document is not only to help you develop the right proposal, but also to reduce or eliminate any risks or difficulties encountered during the diagnostic period through the steps you will take in the early days of the proposal development process.

Step 1: "What are the chances that an implementation project will be necessary after the analysis?"

Generally speaking, there are a few key signs that will help identify whether or not an implementation project will actually be needed after the analysis. These include:

  1. The issues that the client is experiencing go beyond a simple function or department. They're dealing with multiple accountabilities or responsibilities, and one person or one team cannot solve this alone. It impacts many people at an organisational level who may need to change their way of working.
  2. The issues aren't about just one of your client's IT systems, or IT is only a small part of a much larger story. They are not technical at all, or the challenges are not stemming from just one specific group of employees and their competencies. Beware, there is a risk that people think the problem is IT, because that's what they see, what they use. But in reality the problem is "behind": the processes, the parameters that are configured in the system...
  3. The issues involve some level of managerial or organisational complexity in one or even several areas. Many of your client's employees have unclear roles and responsibilities, or their processes are not defined. There are no performance indicators, which means there is no reporting to understand the root causes.
  4. The problem isn't actually a new one, and the client has already tried to solve it with a standard operational approach and has failed.

If all or most of these factors are not met...

If you are the expert in this particular field and a "stand-alone" analysis (no or little implementation) is part of your business model, then you can go for it. Otherwise, it is better to concentrate on a technical and rational analysis. Do not invest in analysis on change management activities in the hope of creating the possibility of implementation where none exists. All you are doing is running the risk of frustrating your client by doing so.

Or it may be an opportunity to explore and propose other approaches such as integrated analysis and implementation, or coaching.


If you still need additional information...

In this case, you would likely want to propose an initial "scoping" or a few interview sessions to get a better understanding of what the issues your client is facing actually are. This can help provide more detail to see how many of those factors are present and, at that point, you'll know more about what type of analysis is needed.

Step 2: "Is this all worthwhile for the scope of the client's work? Are his or her employees actually willing to change?"

When the level of change is significant, which is very often the case in cross-cutting improvement projects, the stakes must be high. The need for change must be perceived as very important and the benefits to be expected from this change must be far greater than the efforts and the natural resistance to change that is bound to appear. Three key evaluation criteria can be considered at this stage:
  1. There is a "burning platform" justifying the change project in the scope and for the employees. Underperformance of the company or low customer satisfaction are examples of situations where significant change is no longer a recommendation but a requirement. Another example would be a severely deteriorated social climate.
  2. If the scope falls within the domain of an employee of your main customer (for example, if the customer is a CEO and the scope involves someone working under him), the person responsible for this area will also have to share this "burning platform" and want to improve this part of the company himself.
  3. The scope described and the associated improvement in revenues, costs and/or cash flow will result in a good business case and a good return on investment. Sometimes the customers themselves think that it is not necessary to have this business case. But often it becomes a key criterion at the final moment of the diagnosis, when the project is decided (when a budget has to be found and/or when the CFO is involved)... and then it is too late! Moreover, the business case allows you to estimate the budget for the implementation phase and guide you in positioning your commercial offer; a very empirical rule of thumb is that the financial benefit must be worth at least 3 times the cost of the implementation project.

If all or most of these factors are not met...

Generally speaking, it would likely be best not to move forward with an analysis at all. Should the client want to proceed anyway, be sure to discuss options that can help limit the risks they might experience. Explore ways that you can enlarge the scope or recommend that your client reduce it, even if that means you won't be in charge of the project. You may miss out on the work in the short-term, but you'll absolutely earn their respect in the long-term.

If you still need additional information....

You would likely want to propose an initial scoping, involving a few interviews that will let you get a feeling of the "Burning Platform" from your own point of view. Review some numbers to estimate a potential business case yourself. Going directly to an analysis without all of the information is a risk for both you and the client. Instead, have an open and honest conversation with your client to see how many more of these factors you can identify.

Step 3: "Is the project one of the priorities of the hierarchy AND on the right scope?"

Whatever the quality of your proposal, it is unlikely to be accepted if the answer to this question is not positive. In fact, there are three main criteria to be checked
  1. The diagnosis, and especially the implementation project that should follow, are among the priorities of the hierarchy. At the very least, they must be part of the priorities of the decision-maker (usually your customer contact) and of any person who has to authorize the project and the associated budget. A project related to a larger "corporate program" would be a good indicator. Similarly, make sure that there are no other internal projects that could compete with this one. Beware, it is not uncommon for the customer contact to assume that his hierarchy is naturally aligned because the case seems very obvious to the manager. This is not always the case, and it is advisable to ask the customer why this project is important to the hierarchy.
  2. There are clear reasons and issues (not only financial: improvement of operations, customer satisfaction...) for the decision maker/authorizer to invest both financially and by allocating internal resources.

If all or most of these factors are not met...

Even if you feel like you can still proceed with the analysis anyway, we do not recommend doing so. Pausing things now will help you avoid refusal later on. Instead, try to see how you can present your case differently. You may need to change the scope, or get more information to develop.

If your client cannot provide this information...

Never, under any circumstances, just assume that they are met. Check this as transparently and clearly as possible before continuing. Discuss with your client how to obtain this information from management or identify options to mitigate risk. This is not only in your interest but also in the interest of your direct customer.

Step 4: "Is there a clear and articulated need for external support for implementation?"

This is one of the major areas where this process differs to a consultant as opposed to a manager. Generally, there are two situations that support the need for implementation of a particular assessment. They are:

  1. It's acknowledged that support is needed only for the diagnostic, or
  2. Support is necessary for both the analysis and the project.

At this point, your client should already know whether the support will be provided internally. If external support is required, they should be able to vocalise what type they actually need. Sometimes they'll need assistance with implementation capacity and/or capability, other times they need help meeting change management requirements.

Regardless, these requirements should be starting to crystallise in a way that informs both you and the client what steps will need to be taken moving forward. If possible, check to see if the client is already preparing a "change management" project. If so, how does he plan to conduct it, with what resources, for how long? Has he or she already positioned it internally (meaning that communication has taken place regarding budget, resources, etc.) or do they intend to position it before the analysis starts? Answering that question will give you a better idea of where you stand moving forward.

If these things are not clear at this point...

If it has been clearly stated that no support will be needed, verify whether this is because the client won't be doing any implementation requiring "change management," or if it's because they plan to have their own internal team do it.

In the first scenario, this would require a "technical analysis" similar to what was outlined above. In the second scenario, it's likely that you are present to compliment and support the internal team - meaning that you'll now want to start discussing things with them so that you can better capture their “change management” needs that will then be embedded in the analysis. If the result of this is that the internal team would do the entire implementation, then you can decide if you want to continue or walk away. If there are still some areas that you can see that allow you to be an organic part of the implementation, you can continue.

If your client cannot provide this information...

You may need to challenge the client on a variety of factors, including the need to position things internally. At the same time, you could propose a scoping or simply walk away depending on what your experience is telling you to do.

Step 5: "Can the operational excellence project be afforded, and is the decision process clear?"

This is not a mistake, it is the cost of the project, including the cost of the diagnostic phase that must be affordable.
In the majority of cases, the budget for the diagnosis is planned (it can nevertheless be more or less well planned). But the project budget is often less planned. Moreover, even when it is planned, this is often an area where the manager doesn't want to give an estimation out of fear of not getting the best price or looking unprepared. In our opinion, we believe that there is a big benefit for both parties to have open and honest conversations about cost. This helps everyone involved better understand what the other party really means, which clears up confusion as much as possible.

Whether the budget is approved or not, it is important to be clear about the project validation process: who the decision-makers are, what the spending approval limits are, and in particular whether the procurement department will be involved in the process.

Ideally, the decision-making process should take place just after or even before the end of the analysis. The greater the gap between the end of the diagnosis and the decision, the greater the risk that the project will never be launched despite your best efforts.
To obtain the best results, a preliminary decision must be made before the end of the analysis in order to benefit from A) the internal motivation and momentum generated by your diagnosis and your change management skills, and B) the availability of the same consultants as during the diagnosis. This is the best way to start the project with a much-needed sense of continuity to help things proceed as smoothly as possible.

If all or most of these factors are not met...

If no budget is likely to be approved, you shouldn't proceed with an analysis. If nothing about the criteria or the process is clear, more discussions are required. Engage once again with key stakeholders to determine which course of action is necessary. You may need to change the scope, etc.

If the manager still can't answer these questions...

At this point in the process, this may be a sign that the client doesn't actually know the answer to these questions - or he or she is only pretending that they know. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to ask or even challenge the client since "that's not any of your business, I'll take care of it" is a likely reply.

You may try to "educate" the client on the risks of not having clarification in the process. Let them know that because of this, they're likely performing the wrong type of analysis to begin with. If that isn't possible, you have two options left available to you. Either assume the risks yourself, or walk away.

Step 6: Are you engaged enough in the content and with the client?

As a consultant, the final step is to make sure that you are engaged at the right level and that you have a good knowledge of the subject. The main questions to ask yourself are:

  • Did you have multiple, high quality discussions about the assessment in question?
  • Because of those discussions, do you have a good understanding of scope, objectives, what to do, where to do it, with whom to do it, and how to do it?
  • Do you and the client have the capabilities necessary for the analysis?
  • Have you or will you be able to demonstrate your own capabilities for the project? Do you have a track record that you can refer to, or people to show during the analysis, to prove that you are indeed the right fit?
  • Do you have a strong relationship with the decision maker and/or authoriser? Are you seen as the trusted advisor you need to be? This is critically important, as scope often grows significantly with a "change management" type of project implementation. It is rare that this sort of project would get finally approved when the owner does not see you as a trusted advisor.
  • Does the project owner have P&L Accountability or is maximum N-1 to the CEO?

If none of these factors apply...

It is absolutely in your best interest to once again meet with the client to try to develop a further understanding of the context of this assessment. If you obtain that understanding and the answers to several of those questions were "no," then you again have two clear options available to you.

You can take on the burden of the risk for yourself, or you can walk away. Truly, things don't get much more straightforward than that.

What happens next?

By following these recommendations, where possible, you should have as much information as possible at your disposal to decide whether or not to make a proposal. If necessary, you should be able to make a proposal that is adapted to the diagnosis and that maximizes your chances of achieving a good project as a result.
Above all, whether you have decided to make a proposal or not, you have certainly shown your value to your client. You have helped him to better understand where he is, why his problems exist and what needs to be done to solve them. In this way, you have either increased your chances of winning this assignment or you have positioned yourself to be consulted on a future assignment.

If you're still interested in finding out more information about what performing the right operational excellence assessment looks like from a manager's perspective, we encourage you to read the 5 MUST DO to decide and prepare for an Operational Excellence assessment - Manager's perspective. This is essentially the same process but from a markedly different perspective. Learning more about what is going through a manager's head throughout this time can help arm you with even more actionable information that you can use to make better and more informed decisions in the future.

If you still have additional questions that you'd like to discuss with someone in a bit more detail, please don't hesitate to contact us today. Likewise, feel free to register with our website so you can get instant access to all the up-to-date information available about this and other critical industry topics.


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Comments 1

Guest - PKC Management Consulting on Thursday, 27 July 2023 07:35

Nice Blog Post.
PKC Management Consulting can help you across a wide range of business operations.

Nice Blog Post. PKC Management Consulting can help you across a wide range of business operations.
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Thursday, 25 April 2024