Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Use of consultants

We know that doing anything for the first time is risky and expensive, and many failures of government projects are due to people doing work where they aren't the best qualified. "Consultant" has become a dirty word whereas consultants, used properly, enable the expensive mistakes made by staff without experience to be avoided. Quite simply - it's uneconomic to retain staff with all the knowledge and experience an organisation will ever need, instead hire consultants to plug gaps.

I fear that the new government will fall into the same trap as previous governments in their use of consultants. I believe that consultants should be used as advisers not to fill permanent roles. I've nothing against government hiring interim managers, but they should be seen as just that and not consultants.

I'd like to see some simple guidance on what consultants should do and how they should be controlled. For example:
  • Consultants are there to advise, not to take management or delivery responsibility
  • There should be clear documentation showing who they advise, and on on what subjects
  • Record and pay for time, and be clear about what was done during each block of time
  • Pay for time spent actively advising rather than continuous blocks of time, a day or two a week is usually much more productive than full time
  • Where appropriate contract for off site research, but expect fixed costs for deliverables (e.g. a research report)
And most importantly listen to and act on the advice that's been paid for.

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