- Clarification of Project Goal and Scope
- Definition of Project Approach
- Creation of the Ideal Freelance Profile
- Evaluation of Where to Find Ideal Consultant
- Freelance Management Consulting Selection
- Management of Freelance Management Consultant Onboarding
- Management of Freelance Management Consultant during Project
- Project Closing
From its humble beginnings in the late 19th century, the consulting industry has grown to one of the most mature sectors in the professional services industry, generating between $100 billion to $300 billion in revenues. While the majority of the consultants still work at large and mid-sized consulting firms, in terms of the number of consulting enterprises, these firms represent no more than 15% in total, with the majority of enterprises active as freelance consultants. Although freelance consultants initially posed little threat to the dominating market leaders, digital networking has provided them with the needed muscle to establish a marketplace for their services. Freelance models offer consultants flexibility and freedom from business development while offering clients more on-demand service at lower costs. Corporates have started to transition away from the typical system, in which one large consulting firm would be retained to execute a substantial project for a client, toward more collaborative arrangements in which clients leverage multiple consultancies. The move is driven by the recognition among corporate executives that their interests may be best served by tapping firms with specialised experience in niche markets, then requiring companies to work together for the client. Understanding that changes in the management consulting industry are occurring in the way corporates engage consultants as well as in the way consultants work, this begs the question how and for what to hire freelance management consultants. The following key steps shall provide corporates with a guide when looking at hiring freelance management consultants:
- Clarification of project goal and scope
- Definition of the project approach
- Creation of ideal freelance management consultant profile
- Evaluation of where to find ideal freelance management consultants
- Freelance management consultant screening/interviewing & selection
- Freelance management consultant onboarding
- Supervising freelance management consultant during the project
- Project closing
2) Clarification of project goal and scope
The first step is about defining the goal and the scope of the project. Based on modern decision-making theory, the most important step in any decision is the definition of the goal and scope. Research has shown that this is not only the most crucial step but also the step that most decision makers fail at. One of the tools executives can use to define the goal is a so-called vision statement. Vision statements help answer the following three questions:
- What are we going to do?
- Why are we doing this?
- How will we know if we were successful?
Being clear about the goal of the project leads to the definition of the scope. Scope determines which aspects of a decision are in and out of consideration. One can think of scope as the boundaries of a photograph. In framing a photo, you consciously determine what will be included, and what will be left out. Many photographers use the zoom function to scope the shots. Changing the scope has real consequences. One the one hand zooming out too far when shooting a picture may make it impossible to see the key details. Zooming in too closely, on the other hand, may help to see every single detail but none of the important things around it. A project with a scope that is too wide may lead to loss of focus, while a scope that is too narrow can cause missed opportunities.
3) Definition of a project approach
In order to define the most appropriate project approach, corporates shall aim to consider the following two parts: a) clarifying the type of project, and b) choosing the most appropriate way to manage the project. Answering these two parts will help build an understanding if hiring a freelance management consultant is a viable option, and what project structure will lead to the best possible project outcome.
Project types of illustration
- Projects that are highly complex in nature and require a number of different types of expertise are best served through the traditional consulting model. An example of such project would be a large-scale post-merger integration project.
- Projects that are relatively simple in nature and require a number of different types of expertise are usually best staffed with in-house resources. This is in particular true for projects that require high levels of domain knowledge. An example of such project would be the documentation of existing business processes.
- Projects that are highly complex in nature and require a single type of expertise are the sweet spot for freelance management consultants. An example of such project would be the development of a pricing strategy.
- Projects that are relatively simple in nature and require a single type of expertise are best served through freelance management consultants or staffed with in-house resources. An example of such project would be the development of a fundraising presentation.
Understanding that only certain project types are well suited for freelance management consultants, the next step is to define how to manage the project.
Ways to manage the project
4) Creation of the ideal freelance management consultant profile
Developing the ideal management consultant profile is critical to attracting the right people to apply for the project. The following areas should always be covered in a profile:
- Modus operandi to manage project
- Project details
Based on the defined project goal and scope, it is essential to break down what the key skills are the company expects a freelance management consultant to have to successfully manage the project. These may range from specific IT skills (i.e. usually essential for a data analysis project) to language skills (i.e. for a research project about entering the Chinese market). How much experience should the freelance management consultant have? And in what area(s)? The clearer one can define the expected experience in terms of similar projects, industry exposure, and previous employers (i.e. must have top-tier management consulting experience) the better the potential applicant can decide whether there is a match. Whilst for certain projects education is of secondary importance, for other projects they form a crucial part of the selection process. If education is a key criterion, one should ensure that this is properly stated what type of education is needed to be successful as an applicant.
A detailed list of responsibilities, which shall be directly linked to the goal and scope of the project, form a crucial part of the profile. The responsibilities shall be framed following the SMART principle, thus being specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. An essential element of the freelance management consultant profile is the so-called project modus operandi. This includes things like who are the key stakeholders to work with and how much interaction there will be, how hands-on the freelance project manager is expected to be in the project, or what is expected in terms of project delivery. Also, the modus operandi shall include how the project shall be managed in terms of on-site, remote, or hybrid delivery. The project details set out the key items around rate, duration, and project intensity.
5) Evaluation of where to find ideal freelance management consultant
Depending on the project goal and scope as well as the candidate profile, finding the ideal freelance management consultant may result in advertising through different channels. Channels such as Expert360 are ideally placed given its large member base of freelance management consultants from a large number of industries and backgrounds.
6) Freelance management consultant screening / interviewing / and selection
Nowadays, freelance management consulting projects attract large numbers of consultants to apply. In order to pick the right candidates to interview, the screening is ideally done based on a set of criteria derived from the freelance management consultant profile. In the interview phase, candidates can be assessed on four dimensions, comparing them with the best you know on any one dimension. The dimensions are reasoning and creative intelligence, which is key to strategic problem solving; charisma, which is key to convincing people of the need for change and leading its implementation; one on one interpersonal skills in interviewing and discussion, which are critical in so many aspects of consulting, from truly understanding a problem to collecting data to coaching individuals through the implementation process; and commitment, which is vital to seeing a tough problem through to a successful conclusion. Interviewing can be done through phone, skype, or on the spot. It should allow as much as possible for the interviewer to learn about the interviewee and vice versa. At the end of the day only if both parties feel comfortable the project will have a good chance of achieving its goal.
7) Management of freelance management consultant onboarding
Onboarding starts from the minute the freelance management consultant has been selected. It is beneficial if companies make use of the time before the official project kick-off by providing the consultant with as much relevant information as possible. Doing so, gives the freelance management consultant a strong head-start into the project and the necessary information to be as productive as possible from day 1. Day 1 of the project should be used to introduce the freelance management consultant to all key stakeholders, ensure full access to all IT systems, as well as to spend time to set out a clear plan what shall be done by when, how, as well as who to involve. Setting clear expectations on day 1 is crucial to allow the freelance management consultant to succeed. Providing ample time with the key stakeholders in the first few days is essential to develop a strong relationship and keep the levels of uncertainty and ambiguity as low as possible.
8) Management of freelance management consultant during the project
Usually, projects for which freelance management consultants are being engaged have a relatively short timeframe. At the same time, these type of projects regularly has highly ambitious goals to reach. Given that, the management of the freelance management consultant during the project becomes an essential ingredient for a successful delivery of the project. It has been proven successful when project goals are broken down into incremental short-term goals that can be easily tracked and managed. Furthermore, highly frequent catch-ups between the project manager and the freelance management consultant are needed to ensure the project can be delivered in scope, time, and budget.
9) Project closing
Using external resources like freelance management consultants is often the only way to get certain projects done, be it due to the lack of time, resources, or knowledge. Achieving the project goal is at the core of project success however successfully closing the project is essential. Freelance management consultants usually build up large amounts of knowledge over the project timeline that more often than not is difficult to transfer to the business through pure documentation. Therefore, spending sufficient time with the freelance management consultant at the end of the project and “pick their brain” on the project is crucial to not end up with value leakage.
Key is to ensure a full transfer of knowledge occurs at the end of the project.
Hiring freelance management consultants can be tremendously beneficial and successful when being mindful of the following steps:
- Key for success is that the goal and scope is defined in a way that leads to a discrete project. This means it has a clearly defined start and end, as well as well understood deliverables attached.
- Key for success is to be very clear what type of project shall be staffed and how the project shall be managed.
- Key for success is to develop a strong freelance management consultant profile is to be as clear about the expectations as possible whilst being realistic and focus on the must haves.
- Key to find the ideal freelance management consultant is having a strong understanding where the various types of freelance management consultants look for their next project.
- Key is to have a clear approach to increase the odds of a good selection.
- Key for success is to have a well-structured and detailed onboarding process to allow for high productivity from day 1 and increase the likelihood of project success in the specified time frame.
- Key for success is to devote sufficient time on a regular basis with the freelance management consultant.
- Key for success is to ensure a full transfer of knowledge occurs at the end of the project.