How to get objective advice from a consultant?
December 11, 2017 5:42 PM   Subscribe

I'll be having an initial conversation with someone who is an expert in their field who recently started their own consulting company to offer related support services in that field. I'm wondering if there any way to structure the compensation or incentives for their time and insights so that I can be sure I'm getting unbiased advice? I'd like to avoid getting advice that basically amounts to the idea that I should just keep hiring him over and over again. Thanks!
posted by Gosha_Dog to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think if it's a legitimate consultant, this shouldn't be a really big problem. Make sure your statement of work is clear and unambiguous; make sure that the work product is clearly specified. Make sure that your consultant understands your budget and timeline for this engagement.

I ran a software consulting organization and we did a lot of short engagements to, say, analyze a situation and provide a series of recommendations. Often those recommendations indeed included hiring us to do an implementation, but our customers understood and asked for this. Your situation sounds different, but I bet that the kind of engagement you describe is pretty common!
posted by tybstar at 6:17 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Im a consultant. Often we worked on fixed fees to avoid appearance of "milking the cow" with deliverables clearly defined and pay married to them at deadlines set in stone. That's it. Clear expectations, clear deliverables requirements, clear payment structure.

For what it's worth: expertise and being a good consultant do NOT go hand in hand. You might research your industry to find an established consultant for comparison shopping, no different than checking with multiple plumbers or roofers before accepting a bid from one.
posted by chasles at 6:18 PM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've hired consultants and I've been a consultant. The key to managing consultants so you can have a clean break - if you so desire - is to structure the engagement with a mutually agreed upon end state, and a clear set of acceptance criteria that will trigger the final payment.

For example, your acceptance criteria might include a specific recommendation, plan for implementation, and a list of resources necessary to put it into practice.

That leaves you at a point where you can sever your relationship with the consultant and still do what you want to do, or re-engage with the consultant to have them run some/all of the implementation (in which case, you then redefine your next end state and acceptance criteria).
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:18 PM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Adding to tybstar we often do this. Its effectively whats consultants do to sell: take a small low paying job to establish a relationship, look at the larger project, amd more ably prepare a realistic quote for the larger project.
posted by chasles at 6:19 PM on December 11, 2017

Like tybstar said, if they are a legitimate consultant, and you are paying them standard rates, you can and should expect that any advice should be free of bias - that's not to say that it always will be, but you should expect that it is. It would have been useful if you could have included which industry this is in, as this would probably garner you better advice on how to manage the situation. It could be as simple as clarifying with them whether they receive any commissions etc.
posted by ryanbryan at 4:52 AM on December 12, 2017

I'm a consultant. It seems like you aren't so concerned about bias of opinion, so much as the consultant withholding information or advice such that your project requirements aren't really satisfied in the end.

Consultants want happy clients and repeat business. The normal way of getting repeat business is to deliver high quality services within the contractual parameters (schedule and budget). Then people trust you, and will hire you again for the *next* project -- not the *same* project.

The key to avoiding recommendations for further study or needing to add services is to make sure you and your consultant have a good understanding about what your needs are, and what information really answers the questions, and how much time and money it will take to provide you with that information. Essentially, having a tight scope and a budget appropriate to execute that work.
posted by voiceofreason at 7:17 AM on December 12, 2017

There are lots of different kinds of bias that may affect a project. I wonder what kind you are most worried about.

So here are some examples. The consultant really only sells one product or service and will reshape your project to fit. The consultant thinks your project is just like his last project and will try to sell the same advice. The consultant has pre-made certain decisions (e.g. Windows from Dell, and not Linux from HP, and not Apple) that you would want freshly examined. The consultant thinks everything should be shiny and new, or thinks he knows some hack which will enable you to use old equipment that will save you a lot of money.

The problem is that some bias is really knowledge of the domain and is part of what you are paying him for.

Spec out the project in as much detail as you can, and ask the consultant to prepare a plan for how the work will be done. Figure out what the key decisions are, and talk them over. I remember one job from when I worked as a consultant where I did a considerable amount of work before I got the job just to prove the technical feasibility of the approach we had in mind.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:56 AM on December 12, 2017

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