The website www.bitpipe.com which provides access to academic studies and market information defines management consulting thus: ‘Consulting services help companies to analyze and improve the efficacy of business operations and technology strategies.’ Previous definitions, often from academia, use the term ‘advisory service’ with the implications that consultants give advice and sit back, rather than taking any involvement in bringing about the improvements being sought.

Although we explicitly provide project and interim management services described elsewhere in the web site <click here> we prefer the definition of consultancy as ‘helping to achieve improvement’ because that is what we do. We do not limit our input to guidance. We work with our clients to bring about the improvement sought.

It is very difficult to describe a typical consultancy assignment because all are different in terms of scope and scale. We do not purport to have a ‘methodology’ to guarantee success; we prefer to leave this to consultancies who feel the need for such a claim. What we do have is a practical, common sense approach combined with knowledge and experience of best practice techniques which help us to use these where appropriate. This web page is intended to describe a typical approach while drawing on some of the distinctions that arise.

Objectives

Most MLG assignments are undertaken for companies who have identified a particular opportunity for improvement – perhaps in terms of reduced lead time to market, improved customer service levels, increased productivity, etc. – and are seeking objective, external support. In some cases the exercise may be specifically related to the implementation of a new computer system or the introduction of Lean principles, possibly within the framework of a corporate initiative. 

Even where implementing a computer system may be the public face of the project, however, the MLG approach to such exercises is based fundamentally on the implementation delivering real benefits to the business. Apocryphal tales abound of businesses spending millions only to end up with worse bottom-line performance. Although there are many issues relating to the implementation of an ERP / Supply Chain discussed in a paper elsewhere in this site <click here> one reason for the failure of a system introduction is that the project has been seen as exactly that – introducing a system. In such cases the goal is the replacement of one IT solution with another, rather than achieving true business aims. This then has impacts on the constitution of the project team, the way the team approaches its tasks and the degree of involvement and commitment of management to the project as it develops.

The same is true of other forms of improvement activity. Although some initiatives can be taken ‘off the shelf’ and introduced – the 5S Housekeeping approach may come to mind – the objective of such an exercise should not be simply to be able to report “oh yes, we are using such-and-such” and get a tick on a scorechart in some measurement unit at Head Office. Even the implementations of 5S should have a broader goal – 5S is a tool for improving quality and productivity and it is these that should be measured within its implementation.

Approach

A typical assignment would involve the following stages:

    Investigation / Analysis

    Although this area is the one that leaves consultants open to mockery, we in MLG believe we need to face up to the jokes about borrowing people’s watches and telling them the time. We do not believe that management in our clients are incapable of assessing the situation for themselves, but equally we would not be able to play a part in defining the future without some degree of investigation undertaken by the consultant or consultants. 

    (That is not to say that we wish to spend lots of time digging into data. We are not a large practice with utilisation as our goal – our objective is to walk through processes to gain an understanding; where there is the need for measurements to be taken or data extracted we would always use client resources wherever possible.)

    In addition, our clients always find value in the external view from an experienced practitioner coming into the business without preconceived ideas is always valuable. This exercise always ends with a presentation to senior management at which the findings are debated and an outline for the future change programme is established.

    Establishment of The Improvement Project

    Depending on the nature of the exercise, the project may be established within the initial meeting with the senior management team or may require further work with the in-house project sponsor and possibly others. This involves setting project goals and timescales, identifying a project manager and project team and defining guidelines for a project plan. Depending on the nature of the project the level of precision or even content within the plan may vary considerably – for example, it may have been identified that improvements in Sales and Operations Planning are essential but as yet no decisions have been reached on who should take responsibility for Demand Planning, whether a statistical forecasting package is required, whether Home and Export markets should be managed differently, and so on.

    Workshops, Education and Training

    Most change programmes commence with workshops at which the project team and possibly others reach agreement on the current situation, the project goals and the techniques to be adopted in achieving these goals. These usually involve education and training (the distinction being that education provides knowledge of a subject, training tells people how to do something) in the concepts and principles of the future way of working and the mechanisms of the change programme.

    Changes to Ways of Working

    This is the most widely-varying element of consultancy activity, depending on the nature and scope of the exercise being undertaken. In relatively simple and self-contained exercises the approach is simply one of getting on and doing it. In more complex, more wide-reaching, change programmes, the activities undertaken will be many and varied. 

The role of the MLG consultant throughout any change programme would typically be that of providing external guidance in the techniques being employed both in the new way of working and in managing the process and culture change. Elsewhere in the website we explain what we term the ‘Consultancy Continuum’ by which we mean that our team can provide any role from trainer and educator through to project manager and interim line manager. In major change programmes we may often provide several services throughout the life of the assignment in order to meet the needs of the client organisation.

The Level of MLG Input

We do not seek binding contracts. We provide estimates at the outset of any assignment but where any opportunity arises for the actual time to be reduced this opportunity is taken – at all times the actual time spent and therefore cost remains in the hands of the client.