Dirty Consulting Tricks – Subletting the “talent”

Posted on October 9, 2012 by


Replacment Refs

Uh oh – these replacement refs aren’t the real deal!

Bait and switch.  Pitch the A team and send in the D team.  Front load the client engagement up high and deliver low.  Three consulting slang terms for subletting talent or substituting in lesser skilled or experienced talent for the one proposed for an engagement.

In program and project management the engagements typically involve the Big Three implementation consultants (Bain, BCG – Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey) though the Big Four Audit/Accounting Firms play as well (PWC, E&Y, KPMG, Deloitte).  Additionally there are several spin offs from the original Big Eight/Five such as Bearing Point or one of the existing Big Three/Four.  The vast majority of time these firms provide outstanding guidance and direction.

There is a dirty trick o pitching a solid cast for a program and then delivering a different set of consultants.  The idea is the swag of the firm makes the revenue; then that firm holds the bottom line by sending in an, on average, a one to three year experienced freshly scrubbed consultant.

The trick introduces a downside for both the client and consultant!

  • For the client it’s the uncertainty of who actually shows up at your door step.  Rather than receiving a true expert in Oracle database migration, process change, program management or product development, the client ends up with newly minted MBA whose key experience has been internships.  Not necessarily bad if  they have the chops – until the $250 to $375 bill rate hits .  Think NFL replacement refs – they were fine in Division 3 college football but a disaster on the big stage.

    To manage that risk contracts should include an non-substitution or mutual approval clause.  That works well for Fixed contracts.  It can also be applied to Time and Material contracts.  The barrier to this I’ve found is the executive resistance – the false premise and promise that “ACME” consulting will fix this!

  • For the consultant it’s that pressure to take gigs in Nebraska versus San Francisco, rotating in for 90 days or a year and not getting the perks until 2-3 years when the 70-80 hour weeks and zero work-life balance send you to an exit strategy.  Oh and there’s that ever-present risk of being exposed as the “emperor without any clothing” – i.e., getting revealed as something akin to a fraud when the skill in person does not live up to what’s on the resume.   The following article from Mark Wong provides some insight from that side of the ledger.

Here are some tips, if you are a local program or project consultant/contractor or director who may need to navigate an approval process that is reluctant to admit a miss – especially concerning one of “the Bigs”

  1. Measure the results of the Big consulting group as you would any resource.  You manage what you measure.  Keep that measurement in your client’s turf rather than accepting a sanitized report, PowerPoint summary from the “Big”
  2. Find the contract officer and become their best friend.  Ensure non-substitution clauses are included or at the very least mutually agreed substitution.
  3. Screen for local or boutique consulting firms that may offer better service for less with the same talent pitched and deployed.
  4. Discern when to push and when to back away.  Regrettably the right thing in the right way may not be there today.  Keep engaged to improve the process the next time.