Operational Excellence blog

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're also a business professional - which means that you need to be able to maximize your chances of winning the bid to begin the type of relationship that will hopefully serve you both well for years to come. 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.

Remember that when the type and complexity of certain issues can no longer be solved with a standard managerial approach, you're entering into a completely different situation that is as fluid as it is complex. The solution a manager seeks may be something straightforward like a "change management" approach, or it could require a complicated transformative solution at the other end of the spectrum. That's a large part of what you've been engaged to find out, but the only way you'll be able to do that is if you choose the right operational excellence assessment in the first place.

Essential things to keep in mind

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, it's important to remember that this white paper 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.

But more than anything, understand that this white paper 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.

Indeed, a large part of what this white paper is supposed to do involves helping you mitigate these risks as much as possible. It's about more than just helping you craft the right consulting proposal, although it will help dramatically to that end. Many of the long-term challenges you will face can be reduced or outright eliminated by the actions you take in these fragile early days of the process. In the end, that's exactly what we want to help you do - put your best foot forward today so you can impress your client and guarantee better outcomes tomorrow.

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 may only be a small part of a much larger story. It may not be technical at all, or the challenges may not be stemming from just one specific group of employees and their competencies.
  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 an issue...

If you are the expert in this particular area and your experience is telling you that "only" an analysis is needed, that should be your recommendation to your client. This would be an opportunity to explore some of the other approaches you have, too - like an integrated "analysis and action plan" or coaching recommendations.

Generally, focus on a technical and rational analysis. Don't "invest" in the analysis by way of activities related to change management hoping to create the possibility of an implementation where there isn't one. All you do is run the risk of frustrating your client by doing so.

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?"

The answer to that question will likely be "yes" if you immediately recognize a "Burning Platform" for change in the area of scope and to the manager's subordinates. Subpart business performance or poor client satisfaction are examples of situations where meaningful change is no longer a recommendation, but a requirement. Social climate would be another example of this.

With regards to something being worthwhile for the scope of the client's work, consider the following two scenarios:

  • If the scope is under one of his or her subordinate areas (like if the client is a general CEO and the scope involves someone working underneath them), the area manager would also need to share that "Burning Platform" and want to improve that part of the business.
  • Likewise, prioritise actions where the scope and associated revenue, cost and/or cash improvement allows for a good business case and return on investment.

If all or most of these factors are not an issue...

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 assessment both part of the hierarchy of business priorities AND on the right scope?"

For a particular assessment option to be aligned with the hierarchy of the business, it needs to be directly tied into at the very least:

  1. The lead decision maker (in this case, your client).
  2. Any relevant authorisers.
  3. The overall priorities of the company.

An assessment linked to a higher "corporate" project would be one example of this. Along the same lines, make sure that there are no other internal projects that might be competing with this one.

Similarly, there should be a clear business rationale for the assessment's use - not just a business case - for both the client and their authorisers. This will be necessary to get them to invest both financially and with regards to the internal resources that will need to be dedicated.

To speak to the scope of work, those impacted by the change must be within the scope of the client and all key authorisers that are a part of this conversation.

If most or all of these factors are not an issue...

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 wait patiently for more information to develop.

If your client cannot provide this information...

Never, under any circumstances, just assume that a particular operational excellence assessment is the right way to go. Part of consulting selling involves knowing how to get answers to questions in situations that may not be straightforward. Verify all of this in the most transparent and clear way possible before continuing.

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, 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 assessment be afforded, and is the decision process clear?"

At this late stage in the process, in order to go through with a particular assessment, a budget needs to be available and likely to be approved. Not only is this necessary to pay for the analysis itself - it's also required to pay for your consulting services related to the potential implementation phase.

Sadly, 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.

If no budget is approved, at the very least the process to validate the project start needs to be clear. You should know who you're dealing with, what spending approval limit you're working with, etc. The order of magnitude needs to be understood and you should already know who the key decision maker is and whether they agree with the process and the criteria you've laid out for them.

If the decision process will take place just after or even before the full end of the analysis, understand that you have something of a tricky situation on your hands. The bigger the gap here, the higher the risks are that the project will never be started at all in spite of your hard effort.

For the best results, there should be a preliminary decision that can be made before the end of the analysis to benefit from A) the newfound sense of internal motivation, and B) your own availability as a consultant. 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 none of these things are true...

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.

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 actual final step in the verification process falls to you and you alone. After all, it is your own expertise that will be required to see this task through to a satisfying conclusion for everyone involved. So instead of continuing to ask questions of your client, now comes the time when you ask a few important ones of yourself.

Before you proceed, sit down and think long and hard about the answers to the following questions:

  • 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?

Now that you have maximum clarity into the situation, you have everything you need to do more than just help your client perform the right operational excellence assessment. You've laid the groundwork that you can use to help them meaningfully solve their problems and improve their own organization, thus creating a mutually beneficial relationship for both of you.

You've helped the client understand where they are, why their problems exist, and what needs to be done about them. You've also gained this insight for yourself. By clearing up as much of this process as possible during these early stages, you've taken significant steps towards mitigating (and even outright eliminating) risk as much as possible moving forward.

As this process continues in earnest, we always recommend being as transparent as possible. This process is about more than just winning a bid. You're proving that you and you alone can help guide a client through this process and you can't do that by mincing words or being anything other than totally honest. At that point, you won't have to fight with many other competitors to help the client perform their assessment and eventual implementation project.

The client literally won't have any other options. Make no mistake, that is a very exciting position for a consultant to be in.

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 download our companion white paper 5 MUST DO to decide and prepare for an Operational Excellence assessment - Manager's perspective. Again, 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.