Quality consultancy - its variety and roles
The article looks at the role of the quality consultant and the pros and cons of using one.
The quality consultant has been around for a very long time. This consulting has mostly been associated with the quality management systems of ISO 9001, its fore runners BS5750 and derivatives such as PS 9100 and TS 16949. However, quality consulting may cover a variety of activities, disciplines and roles. In fact the term consulting has come to cover a broad range of client requirements and frequently engages the consultant in fulfilling a variety of roles.
The ideas and opportunities presented here are most applicable for the individual consultant, consultants employed by the smaller sized consultancy organisations or internal consultants. There is limited applicability to larger consultancy organisations where additional considerations apply beyond the scope of this paper. The author believes that the aspects covered here are of most interest to quality professionals, institute members and potential members of the CQI regardless of membership type.
The focus is on the more traditional and typical varieties and roles of the quality consultant and how to get and receive the greatest levels of satisfaction for an engagement.
Consultants as advisors
Ask anyone what a consultant is and most people will say 'an advisor' but when we look at how consultants behave or what clients expect them to do, a different picture emerges. Yes, consultants frequently do act as advisors, but this rather passive but critical role usually involves some form of situation analysis followed by conclusions and recommendations.
Consultancy of this nature can cover a variety of themes and the client may require recommendations for:
- implementing a quality management system
- changing the quality culture
- implementing new methods such as failure mode effects analysis (FMEA), production part approval process (PPAP), or statistical process control (SPC)
- implementing quality improvement models such as six sigma, kaizen, lean manufacturing or total productive maintenance (TPM)
- achieving quality awards such as the European, British, and Scottish or regional quality awards or investors in people (IiP)
Clients usually benefit from using an external consultant as the advisor because they are free of in-house bias and work pressure. This can be especially useful when cultural and behavioural changes are required.
Consultants doing work
Many clients find that they need more than advice and will engage the consultant to help with the implementation of recommendations. The consultant may encourage such an approach wishing to establish a long term relationship with the client.
Sometimes the work is in support of internal company produced recommendations rather than the consultant's own recommendations. The consult becomes engaged and involved in doing work to implement the recommendations of others.
In these circumstances consultants find themselves:
- leading, project managing or facilitating implementation teams
- acting as an improvement project facilitator, perhaps using six sigma or other methods ie six sigma improvements
- writing manuals or procedural documents eg quality management system (QMS) or similar implementations
- producing process definitions eg organisational redesign or QMS implementations
- producing detailed process maps eg process improvement techniques such as lean, kaizen or TPM
Clients benefit most when the consultant supports the implementation of their own recommendations. In these situations the consultant is most highly motivated and committed to making the recommendations work in practice. Alternatively another set of skills applied to the practical implementation may bring benefits if the consultant making the recommendations does not have the skills to implement.
Another form of engagement by doing work can be to act as an interim manager. Usually the organisation has a manpower issue of some sort or another. An employee may be on long term sick, have left, resigned or have been promoted to another role. Alternatively an organisation many not have need of a full time manager or have difficulty finding the right person in the time window required.
This role is perhaps closer to a temporary employee rather than a consultant. However, often the interim manager can be used to enable a closer insight when an in-depth situation analysis is required. Therefore interim managers may act as an advisor while managing the client's quality business and doing work.
Trainer and coach
Consultants are often engaged to transfer a specialist skill or competency. The consultant might achieve this through:
- training courses or workshops
- mentoring teams or individuals
- provision of books, training materials and other media
Many consultants have developed products that clients can use to learn or use to apply specialist techniques. These include:
- do-it-yourself kits
- process models
The consultant may have copyrighted or patented the product. Other products may be freely available or open source.
Not all consultants are external to the organisation. Usually found in larger organisations, internal consultants, can take on many of the same roles as their external counterparts. They may be located in special departments that exist to:
- drive change in the organisation
- develop special skills
- manage special projects
Organisations have used such consultancy teams to:
- pursue a European Quality Award
- implement six sigma and lean manufacturing
- turn-a-round a company using a range of quality methods
- co-ordinate global quality activities during a major reorganisation
- learn to build (by doing) semiconductor facilities faster
Sharing knowledge between organisations
Large and small organisations might set up external consultancy organisations for the mutual benefit of a particular business sector, region or country. Examples are
- SEMATECH, a semiconductor organisation where at least a part was dedicated to improving supplier equipment quality and developing TPM
- competitiveScotland.com, an organisation and part of Strathclyde University, set up to focus on improving the competitiveness of Scottish companies
Many universities, regional and local government organisations provide some level of consultancy.
The selection of a consultant should never be considered lightly. There are always costs and efforts required to support the engagement of a consultant whether internal or external. Knowing what needs to be delivered is a great help in making the right selection.
The selection process has to start with a set of requirements. We can use the 5W1H model to construct these. What is that purpose? Where is it required? When is it required? Why is it required? How will the requirements be satisfied? Who could do it?
Referrals are usually the best way to track down the right consultant but this sometimes requires that the client knows someone who has used a consultant for a similar purpose. Of course a consultant which suits one organisation may not be right for another.
Such worries can be reduced by going to a recognised body that deals with consultant referrals. One such body is the CQI Management Consultants Register. Using such a body can save a lot of time and effort as the client is provided with the names of up to three competent and experienced consultants, based on a short brief which describes the deliverables, the organisation and the location.
Some other bodies dealing in consultant referrals are:
So why use a consultant and what advantages are there? First, an external consultant can:
- provide unbiased, objective and independent advice
- provide specialist knowledge that is not otherwise available
- provide access to their own or partner's intellectual property
- have access to a wide and diverse network of knowledgeable people
- cost less than an employee under some circumstances and arrangements
- fill a short-term or part-time resource need where specialist knowledge, skills and competency are required
- be expendable in cases where the assignment's risk of failure or termination is high
Internal consultants can be:
- protected from other work and influences on their time
- used to cascade the specialist skills, competencies and knowledge introduced by an external consultants
- develop a unique in-house strategy for change
- used to share specialist skills that were developed in house
- developed for managerial roles especially when culture change is being nurtured
- used to retain specialist knowledge in house when the functional role has ended
The disadvantages of using a consultant usually become evident when the definition and selection processes have failed. For an external consultant these can include:
- the consultant not being engaged in the business and primarily interested in personal, financial or academic gains
- taking time to get to understand the organisation in depth
- high costs, especially for more specialist skills and unique competencies
- escalating costs if the organisation does not manage the expenditure
- organisation knowledge gained and retained by the consultant
- an unethical or untrustworthy consultant
- intellectual property rights being shared with or owned by the consultant
- the consultant terminating the contract before the work is completed
In reality it is better to see these disadvantages as risks that should be evaluated and mitigated during the establishment of a legally binding contract.
The disadvantages of using an internal consultant could include:
- the restriction to knowledge, competencies, skills and intellectual properties that are owned by the company
- being embroiled in the politics and culture that the organisation wants to change
- cost of ownership can be higher than immediately apparent due to fringe benefits, national insurance, paid holidays and sick leave, training and personal development, facility and other organisational overheads
- harder to terminate the arrangements
- knowledge networks may be limited to those internal to or close to the organisation
Whether you are a prospective client or consultant you can find more in-depth information to help you and to answer your questions on the CQI membership pages. These cover:
- making the right selection
- getting the best from your consultant
- starting out and surviving as a consultant
- internal vs. external consultants