How often do organizations that have a dedicated team or group working full-time on quality initiatives under the name of Six Sigma, or Lean, or Business Excellence or Service Quality and at the same time the strategic major projects like business reengineering, restructuring, revenue enhancements are outsourced to big consulting organizations? The answer is: all too often.

This is an obvious gap that some managers who are responsible for quality in their organization try to ignore. Meanwhile they try to convince themselves that they are making the most positive impact possible in their current roles. Experience indicates these are the most likely causes of this situation:

1. Inappropriate Choice of Methodologies and Consultants

Most of the methodologies are positioned by the consultants as being the only solution to the organization’s problems. Using an example of a fictitious consulting organization called Super Consultants, which is into marketing and training of a particular methodology for services, say Six Sigma. The consultants make a presentation to a bank management about how it should deploy Six Sigma through capability route and invest in Black Belt and Green Belt training programs over a three-year period.

The reality is that the bank’s key businesses are in the red so the bank needs a couple of projects to immediately get into the black. Despite knowing this, the marketing head of Super Consultants convinces them to launch the Six Sigma movement starting with a few Black Belt and Green Belt projects. The training is launched, the trained candidates struggle. A company in the red will be firefighting every day so team members do not turn up for meetings set up by the Black Belt candidates. And management cannot force them because they are need in the daily firefights, which seem essential just to keep the bank’s nose above water. So in the end, money is spent, resources are allocated yet nothing works out. The collective conclusion reached is “Six Sigma does not work!” The consultant gets away by saying that management did not ensure that people attended the meetings and so on…

2. Issues with the Methodology Experts

The are two key issues with internal resources as compared to external consultants:

  • Facilitation misused as a hands-off approach – During a interview for a senior project manager’s position, a candidate was asked: “What is your role?” He said that he was a deployment leader, which means meeting business heads, understanding their problems and suggesting training programs for their resources to resolve problems. So is he taking ownership of providing a solution and impacting the business? The answer was, “No, my job is to facilitate and not get involved in the day-to-day project working.” Facilitate here meaning “review, advise, escalate, etc. – all of which fall into the category of a hands-off approach. This is where business consultants might get the job of solving the problem since their proposal gives the aforementioned deployment leader a sense of security that at least the external consultant will take the ownership and recommend a solution; some consultants might even implement.
  • Stuck to methodology and tool usage – Often it has been observed that internal resources are trained by external trainers to follow the “rigor” of the methodology which ends up as “rigor mortis” for the project. Since every project requires flexibility and common sense in tool application, newly trained Green Belts or Black Belts are not helped by “rigorous” mentors who insist on tool usage not because the project requires it, but as a demonstration to meet certification criteria. Too often trainees carry forward this false tendency along with an over emphasis on a PowerPoint tollgate presentations. While Champions or stakeholders are expecting fact-finding, smart conclusions and pragmatic and effective action plans; they can get unnecessary and sometime irrelevant data analysis and fancy presentations.

What then is the best way forward?

A Model of Internal Business Consulting

The model of internal business consulting that works best is one that judiciously combines internal and external resources. The overall strategy is outlined by the internal consulting group, whether is called Service Quality, Quality Initiatives, Six Sigma, or whatever. Here are three key points about the model:

  1. The organization should have a set of senior managers who are trained in problem solving (DMAIC, DFSS, etc.) with the experience of having led at least three or four large scale projects. They are the equivalent of senior consultants. They are given a team of junior Black Belts and Green Belts designated as project managers for the field work.
  2. Project managers can be sourced from external consultants as per requirement and can be placed under supervision to internal senior project managers to carry on additional projects. This takes care of additional unplanned projects as well as keeps internal costs lean.
  3. One of the senior project managers is given the responsibility of internal capability building. This resource is an expert in all the methodologies being used and is proficient in training skills.

So one is looking at the possibility of external project managers being placed round the year as part of the internal consulting team. This option has the following obvious advantages:

  • Optimizing costs for the organization as well as any consulting firm. For the organization, it get twice the output for the same dollars paid to the consultant.
  • Increasing accountability and tightening control over the quality of deliverables by the external consultant.
  • Crunching project turn around times by 30 percent to 50 percent, since internal resources are closely monitoring the project as well as ensuring proactive removal of roadblocks/delays.
  • Assuring the quality of solutions.

This model makes a business impact and allows an internal consulting team to gain the trust of management as the solution provider. It is an all around win-win solution.

About the Author