Several clients of TSXperts come to us when their projects have already fallen into a cliff, and a significant number of these projects were driven there by test and measurements consultants. Contrary to what it may seem, the engagement of such professionals is not a guarantee of project success, especially in the test and measurements industry.
Consultants are certainly much better equipped to handle the common technical challenges of test and measurements applications than professionals of other areas making an attempt to implement a test system. System Integration companies are in a better position to deal with the project management challenges of larger test and measurements projects, and usually do a better overall job than project teams that are not as used to the daily grind of the T&M industry.
You can feel there is a “but” coming…
There are two general ways clients engage consultants; either under a fix priced for the project or in a time and materials basis. Clients usually prefer when a consultant can provide a fix price estimate for the work that will be involved in a certain project. Obviously, nobody particularly likes to sign blank checks when it comes to services. Nobody would leave their car at the mechanic and pre-authorize the work to be done without some a prior idea of the overall cost for fixing the car.
The most important driver of test and measurements project failure is lack of well established requirements. Test and measurements professionals know that. Their opportunity to driving good business for themselves comes from their ability to deliver a well determined scope of work with their proposed original budget and schedule.
As such, they are extremely risk adverse, when it comes to fix priced projects. If they are asked by a client to provide a fixed price proposal for a given project, they usually go through a basic requirements gathering exercise so at least a minimal level of system specifications is derived, so they can determine budget and schedule for the project.
Usually, either the client funds that activity or they ask the consultant/System Integrator to come up with that number at their own expense, when the engagement is part of a competitive procurement process. Regardless of which case, the initial time spent by the client/consultant combo is usually not adequate for enough of the project requirements to be elicited, allowing for an accurate project budget and schedule to be determined by the consultant/Integrator.
If the client is funding the activity, there is usually a perception, a skewed one I may add, that money is being spent on a non-value add activity for the project. Dollars are being spent and no progress in being made towards project completion. This is a terrible misconception. The more refined the project requirements are before project schedule and budget need to be determined, the more accurate these figures will be. If the consultant/Integrator is doing the activity at their own risk, they will fight tooth and nail to spend the absolute minimum amount of time needed in order to being able to provide the project budget and schedule, and will probably have several technical assumptions included in the proposal. At the end of the day, these professional sell their time, therefore, spending time on an activity that is not funded or one that won’t bring them the certainty of recovering that time investment is not something they take very lightly.
The fact of the matter is that, the project is already headed to the cliff we talked about at the beginning of this post, if the above materializes.
The second engagement type is time and materials. Under this format, the client will pay for every hour the consultant/Integrator invests in the project. Under this scenario, what may end up happening is that the consultant may not be extra motivated to be efficient in the project implementation, depending on his business model. On this case, the client should have staff members who thoroughly understand the work product and the technology that is being utilized by the consultant in order for the efficiency factor to be achieved and the good relationship to be maintained intact. Even on the cases where the consultant is pursuing efficiency, if the client doesn’t fully understand what is being done, it may prove difficult for a relationship of trust to be developed.
Experienced consultants understand where the enough requirements line is for a given project and are the ones who better guide and educate their clients to walk that line with them.
There are usually five scenarios that involve the engagement of such consultants and System Integration companies that are sources of problems for the client and should be properly addressed if a successful partnership is to be accomplished with these professionals. www.tsxperts.com has a white paper named “Challenges in Working with a Consultant or System Integrator” that elaborates on this subject more.