Business Consulting & Analysis
What is BUSINESS CONSULTING?
BUSINESS CONSULTANTS are people who specialize in helping clients resolve their company’s most urgent problems, issues, or projects. They work across a huge range of roles and industries and share their gift of analyzing information and identifying the best path for each company to take.
Consultants tend to be individuals with at least a few years of experience under their belts in a particular field or focus. It’s this insight that they then sell as a service to other companies.
Consultants may work with multiple companies at one time, only spending a few hours a week on each. Or, they might be brought in full-time for 6 months to solve a bigger problem. It all depends on the company and the issue it’s trying to tackle.
Overall, a consultant’s job is to solve the issue they’re being hired for, and then move on to the next company.
Business Analysis Consultant
A business analysis consultant might perform three types of roles when working with clients: Expert, Pair-of-Hands, and Collaborator. Each of these represents a different kind of interaction and a different source of satisfaction for the consultant.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: THE EXPERT MODE
As an expert, I am working with a client who has a problem and wants me to fix it. I am working in the expert role when a client brings me in to deliver some training, perform a process assessment, or review some project deliverables or process documentation.
More than one client has told me, “You are here because the pain has become too great.”. The organization was suffering from problems resulting from ineffective practices and processes in some domains, and they hired me to help them rectify those problems. That is, they sought help from an outside expert.
Unfortunately, I cannot actually fix the problems in an organization. I can evaluate the current reality, suggest root causes that lead to the pain, and identify areas ripe for improvement. I can provide the clients with knowledge and resources that can help, and I can propose a roadmap for applying that knowledge on their projects. However, it’s up to the managers and practitioners in the client organization to implement those actions effectively themselves. Sustained improvement actions also demand culture changes. Those take time and must be driven from within, not by outsiders.
Some of the most fun I’ve had in the expert consulting mode involved sitting in a room at a client site for a day while a procession of people came in to discuss various random problems they were facing. I never knew what question was going to come up next. It might be about getting customers engaged in requirements discussions, dealing with configuration management problems, or generating better estimates for project planning. I found these engagements stimulating and challenging. I really had to think on my feet to understand the situation quickly and try to come up with suggestions that were likely to be effective.
I’ve done a great deal of consulting that involved reviewing process or project deliverables—most commonly requirements documents—to point out errors and provide improvement recommendations. I’m functioning as an outside expert in this sort of engagement too. After having reviewed a lot of requirements for clients over the years, I have an idea of what constitutes a good set and some of the common problems to look for. I can’t confirm that the document contains the correct requirements for the project because I wasn’t involved with setting the business objectives, defining the needs, or interviewing customers. But I’m very good at finding other kinds of problems that someone who has less experience working with requirements might overlook.
THE IDEA GENERATOR
As an expert consultant, my key responsibility is to supply ideas that will help a client solve a problem or build software faster and better. Some solution ideas are better than others, so I try to come up with a lot of them. For every 10 ideas, probably two will be ridiculous, two others might be ineffective or won’t suit the culture, three more will be obvious, two of the remainder will be clever and novel, and the final one will be brilliant. I need to produce enough ideas to get a nice handful of solid hits in those last two categories.
I use a mental test as a reality check on any advice I propose. First, I consider whether the actions I’m suggesting have a high probability of actually solving the client’s problem. That is, my proposal must be effective. And second, I ask myself if the client actually could implement my suggestions if he chooses to do so. That is, what I’m proposing must be both practical and appropriate for the client’s culture and situation. I don’t want to give clients advice that wouldn’t help them, isn’t realistically feasible in their world, or might do more harm than good.
Another way to function as an expert consultant is in a coaching role. You could work with individual BAs to assess their current ways of working and recommend better practices. On a larger scale, you might help an organization establish a business analysis center of excellence to establish, maintain, and monitor standards of practice.
Your expertise could help them develop methodologies, training materials, templates for project deliverables, process and guidance documents, and other resources. You might help define career paths and professional development sequences for practitioners. Providing such leadership lets you leverage the effective techniques you’ve observed from previous clients to help new clients work in better ways.
This approach was really helping their projects be more successful. Such anecdotes validate that I am presenting ideas and practices that can yield better results in companies that learn how to make them work. It’s always great to hear that someone has found my advice to be valuable.
MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK: THE PAIR-OF-HANDS MODE
When working in the pair-of-hands mode, the consultant is providing a service that the client company might be able to perform themselves but for which they lack sufficient staff or time. The client defines the need and sets the project boundaries and expectations. The consultant then performs the work largely on his own, with the client contact assessing the deliverables to ensure they are satisfactory.
Some companies, for instance, hire an experienced BA on a contract basis for a specific software development project. The consultant comes into the organization and performs the traditional BA tasks of identifying users, eliciting requirements, writing specifications, and so forth. Such staff augmentation for a specific project is a pair-of-hands engagement mode, and could involve on-site work for the duration of the project.
WORKING SIDE-BY-SIDE: THE COLLABORATOR MODE
In the third type of consulting engagement—the collaborator mode—the outside consultant joins forces with members of the client organization to work on the project or solve the problem together. In contrast to the more independent work that characterizes the pair-of-hands mode, the collaborator mode involves frequent interactions between consultant and client to identify solutions, set priorities, make decisions, and create deliverables.
A client hired me a few years ago for an extended off-site collaborative engagement. This financial services company wished to implement peer reviews as part of its architectural governance process. The clients relied on my experience to advise them on how to make peer reviews effective in their environment for a specific set of work products and review objectives.
One member of the client’s staff worked closely with me on this project to define their review process. We then developed several hours of e-learning presentations to train their staff in the new approach. The client drafted the slides and key talking points for the presentations, and then I fleshed out a script for each slide with a more detailed narrative.
Different Types of Consulting Services for Businesses
There’s no denying that the consulting industry is a prevalent industry with diversified branches stemming from it. This diversity leads to enormous job opportunities with distinctive roles and responsibilities. Every business owner needs to have a complete understanding of how and why they must hire business consultants.
While any competent consultant can efficiently carry out a range of vital tasks, a business consultancy can provide genuine assistance to businesses outfits- be it relating to the organizational, overall management, or financial.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of the ten different types of consulting services in practice worldwide.
1. Human Resource Consultant
Arguably the most common in the industry, HR consultants are typically involved in businesses. They play a crucial role in providing solutions to human capital questions from either colleagues or clients. Furthermore, they contribute tremendously to implementing order and encouraging ideal organizations with performance levels.
2. Management Consultant
It’s essential to mention that any management consultant is more commonly referred to as a business advisor. Their fundamental role is to troubleshoot concerns that include company organization and implemented strategies. Management consultants leverage their long collated business skills accumulated from past experiences to offer genuine expert opinions and advice alternatives to steer off your business through a crisis.
3. Operations Consultant
Pretty evident from the title itself, the primary job description of an operations consultant is to conduct a seamless and uninterrupted business operation. It’s essential to highlight those operations consultants’ most prominent advisor’s segment in this industry. This significant half pays attention to a whole host of crucial operating tasks to maintain the sustenance and growth of the business at all times.
As the operation consultants have an imperative working pattern, they tend to function in proximity to both the business’s technical and strategic functions. Ideally, they should be working closely with the most active workers to allow the best advisories to come to action when necessary.
4. Strategy Consultant
There’s no denying that strategy consulting services are often considered a top-tier consultancy variant. Individuals who practice strategy consultancy assist in effectively analyzing every aspect of the business- government and economic policies, organizational strategies, and functional strategy.
Superior authorities delegate all the responsibilities and duties in the business organization in most circumstances, such as directors and senior management positions. This is primarily due to the jobs the Consultant will do- almost all business place priorities.
5. Risk and Compliance Consultant
There’s no denying that every functional business must have a fixed set of strict policies and protocols- ethical practices, regulations, company standards, and business place laws. Following these rules and protocols diligently helps businesses to minimalize all risks of industry violations.
In comes the risk and compliance consultant, who will develop a compliance policy, which will effectively prevent the business from possible detrimental affairs. To put it simply, the consultants will work to keep the company out of trouble.
Benefits of Hiring a Business Consultant
The pressures that small and medium-sized business owners face can be intense. Starting, taking over, or learning to manage a business is hard enough as it is, but such owners also often find themselves having to play the roles of VP Finance, Head of HR, Director of Sales, Marketing Specialist, and many more, all at once. With so many hats to wear, small business owners can quickly run out of capacity, and mental strength as well. In fact, having no time to “do it all” is one of the top stresses of small business owners, according to Forbes Magazine.
For businesses small, medium, or large, hiring a consultant can be a huge time-saver, and a real asset to growth, while removing direct pressure from business owners.
Consultants can provide expertise and an objective eye to help guide a business, with different consultants specializing in various industries and areas, including strategy and management, operations, human resources, finances, funding opportunities, IT, and sales and marketing.
What are the Benefits Hiring a Business Consultant?
Consultants work closely with business owners and managers to help identify challenges, offer advice, and propose practical solutions. You might think of consultants as doctors, who diagnose the problem and prescribe a remedy that alleviates pain. The benefits of hiring a strategy consultant include the following:
The main values of consultants include their knowledge, expert skills, and influence. Because consultants work with a variety of businesses, they may have a much broader and deeper knowledge of business trends, industry challenges, and new technologies and processes, than internal employees.
In fact, according to Harvard Business School, consultants are fundamental in disseminating innovation and new knowledge within their industries.
When you hire a consultant, you pay only for the services that you need, when you need them. This can provide substantial savings over hiring a salaried employee, with the same level of expertise, to complete similar tasks.
Further, consultants in multiple areas—lean manufacturing, proactive funding, financial planning, etc.—can identify areas where you are currently spending more than you need to, and help you cut costs.
The experience of consultants means that they know best practices already. For example, a lean consultant can look at a client’s manufacturing process and very quickly identify inefficiencies. With a consultant, there is no need for business owners to reinvent the wheel or lose valuable time to something that can be completed by an expert contractor.
Consultants provide a useful distance from business challenges; they are not emotionally invested in operations in the same way that business owners are, and they can more easily identify and address challenges, whether the issue is implementing a new technology or completing a merger or acquisition.
The consultant’s objectivity can be especially important in family-run businesses, where dynamics could be emotional and core problems more difficult to discuss.
Consultants do not offer a one-size-fits-all solution. Their value comes in learning about each client’s business and goals, and tailoring advice and strategy consulting to the specific challenges that the business faces.
This customization means that a consultant’s solutions are much more effective than generic advisory services. For example, a government grant consultant can select funding programs for which your business is clearly eligible and has the greatest chance of success.
Unsure about Hiring a Business Consultant?
Despite the benefits of business consulting services, some business owners may be wary of engaging them. Researcher Lance Lindon has complained that consultants “would borrow our watch to tell us what time it is.” That is, some business owners may feel that consultants cannot tell them anything that they don’t already know. Other business owners and managers may reject consultants out of a discomfort with sharing the business’s problems with an outsider.
However, both concerns can be alleviated by choosing the right consultant for your business, one whose expertise will make a real difference to your firm’s growth.
Choosing the Right Consultant
Select a consultant with a proven record of results. You might speak to other business owners and managers in your circle and see if you can get a recommendation.
You can also dig into the backgrounds of potential consultants through their websites and social media sites. Who have consultants worked for and what is their educational background? How long have they been in business? Such information will help ensure that your chosen consultant is a qualified expert who will provide concrete results.
As well, in choosing your consultant, remember that the best consultants meet both the technical and psychological needs of their clients.
For example, your government funding consultants should not only understand funding programs, but possess sharp project management abilities; your ideal IT consultant should not only have a deep understanding of the relevant hardware and software, but also possess excellent communication skills.
The Journal of International Management Studies identifies the following additional key soft skills for consultants:
- Capacity to cognitively collect, synthesize, and analyze information about a business
- Empathy for the client’s situation
- Discretion about the client’s operations
- Adaptation to the client’s readiness for change and available resources
- Ability to “read” the client’s environment and fit in
Consultants should understand your motives for engaging them and should approach the consulting work as a partnership. Development of this partnership can be the key to a business owner saving time and money and reducing stress, while positioning the company for longevity and success.
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