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Hiring a Consultant

A priest, a rabbi and a consultant were all sitting in Row 12 on an airplane. There was a problem with the plane and it was clear that it was going to crash. The priest began to pray the Rosary. The rabbi began to read the Torah.  The consultant? He was up and down the aisle trolling for product liability clients clients.

Consultants get a bad rap. Sometimes deservedly so. I thought about this recently amid the revelations of the government’s failed website. It appears that rather than hire a consultant to manage the development of the site, the Department of Health and Human Services allowed one of its own agencies to oversee the development and testing of the website.

This is not a rip-on-ObamaCare riff. But it is about what happens when a technology project goes awry. And it’s about whether you should hire a consultant and when it makes sense to do so.

Here are just three examples of when hiring an outside consultant makes sense. First, hiring a consultant makes sense if you have a lack of staff time to allocate to your project. I know of few organizations that have time on their hands. Bringing in a consultant makes sense if you have a one-off project and not enough time. If you have a continuing project it makes sense to hire your own staff.

A second reason to hire a consultant is if you or your staff lacks the expertise to get the job done. This takes some soul-searching on your part. But be honest. Who has the time or inclination to do everything? If you’re a technology-driven company and you need a sales portfolio prepared, it makes sense to go to a sales consultant.

A third reason to hire a consultant is to put “another set of eyeballs” on the problem. In business we often spend so much time on a project that we develop what I call a proprietary interest in it. We built it; we own it. Having employees invested in a project is good. However, being so invested that you can’t see the flaws in your baby isn’t so good. A consultant can come in and give you an honest appraisal of where you are in the project and how to bring it in for a landing.

These are basically the three reasons people hire us. There are others, but most of our calls come when nobody on board has the time or the expertise, or the objectivity to bring a business development project to conclusion.

For example, for several years we were retained by a think tank called the Center for Health Transformation. CHT was at the time a think tank based in Washington, that provided thought leadership on how to use healthcare technology to improve the quality and lower the price of healthcare.

Our job was to interview and report on notable uses of cutting edge technology in the healthcare industry, including accountable-care organizations, health information exchanges and healthcare analytics. Our job was to produce a series of white papers on health IT for the client.
CHT didn’t hire us because of a lack of expertise. There were more health IT policy experts in their hallways than the hallways of Congress.

But CHT lacked one thing: time. In the fast-paced DC environment they lacked the time to methodically dig out the necessary information and produce attractive crying-to-be-read white papers. That’s what we did, bringing the objective eye of a reporter and the sharp pencil of an editor to the job.

Some of those white papers are available for viewing on this site.

Not all jobs have the crushing deadlines, technical complexity and inbred proprietary design require a consultant. But a lot do. (DHHS, are you still reading?)

So here’s some free advice from the consultants: If your job is in that category, stop going around in circles and start looking for help.
Now start the meter.