5 Questions To Ask Before Hiring a Contractor or Consulting Firm

By John Dillard

Before You Hire Operations Consulting Services, Ask Them (And Yourself) These Five QuestionsIf you are a defense and security executive and you need outside help to get advice or solve a problem, you know that the choice can be difficult and entagled by complex regulations and conflicting priorities. 

Beyond the basic requirements and agency-specific concerns, are you asking the right questions in order to find the best adisor or service provider? And, more importantly, are you asking yourself the right questions before you sign on to the engagement?

The next time your federal security agency is ready to hire an operations consulting firm, here are five questions you need to ask before you sign the agreement:

Questions To Ask The Consulting Services Provider

Many federal buyers just look for technical skills, cost, and time.  That's not enough. Dig deeper into the contractor's capabilities with these three questions:

1. “How Do You Measure The Results Of Your Work?"

The first question you need to ask before you hire a consultant or contractor is how they measure the value and results of their work. If the consulting services provider doesn’t have a clear and concrete way to demonstrate the value of their work, you shouldn’t hire them.

The right operations improvement firm knows how to determine and prove the difference made by their work. Companies and consultants that don’t know how to convey their own value often don’t know how to deliver measurable value to your agency.

2. “What Exactly Will You Deliver And When Will I Get It?”

In almost any proposal, vague deliverables are the most important trap to look out for.  In order to avoid getting burned later by unclear language, you need to confirm that the consulting services provider knows exactly what they are expected to deliver to you. Their proposal should provide a tangible outcome with a specific delivery date, and then you need to hold them accountable to those specifics (see Question 5 below).

For example, the contracted deliverable might be a dashboard, but you need to know the objectives of the dashboard, when it will be delivered, and how its quality will be evaluated. The prospective consultant or contractor needs to clearly articulate this information to you; otherwise, you have very little basis for future accountability.

3. “How Does Your Firm Measure Its Own Success?”

When you ask a consulting firm this question, many companies reply with vague platitudes such as, “If the client is happy, then we’re happy,” or, “If client satisfaction is high, then we’re successful.” These ambiguous answers belie the fact that all service providers are in business to be profitable, and every firm has a means of measuring its own bottom-line success.

What this question really drives down to is whether the consulting services provider defines its success to customer results in any particular way. The best operations consulting firms determine success by delivering multiple times the return on investment of their consulting fees to your defense or security agency. Instead of trite platitudes or vague descriptions, your ideal consultant should be able to provide a real, measureable result. In some cases, they'll even put their own fees at risk by gettting paid in part based on results delivered.

Questions To Ask Yourself Before Hiring Consulting Services

While it’s important to ask a potential service provider a rigorous set of in-depth questions, you also need to ask two questions of yourself as an executive at your government agency:

4. “Do I Care About Actual Results, Or Just Bodies in Seats?”

Leaders at many national defense agencies are tempted to only consider the number of employees that will be brought on with a services engagement, especially if the per-person value seems reasonable. However, that’s an inefficient means of tracking the end result: value. 10 mediocre team members might be no more effective than 5 great ones -- so the number of people (or hours) is a terrible measure of value.  

When determining the cost of an operations consulting engagement, you need to focus on the potential value the services - and the results of those services -  provide to your agency, not just the number of heads they will (or won’t) bring to the process.

5. “Am I Prepared To Hold The Service Provider Accountable?”

When a federal agency hires advisors, they often have no means of holding the new firm accountable, particularly when it comes to releasing or firing the firm. However, as difficult as it might be to fire a service provider, your defense or security agency needs to be logistically (and mentally) prepared to do so - and fast.

If your agency has an explicit means of measuring the value delivered by a service provider, you’re able to hold the firm more accountable for results. If the firm doesn’t deliver on the expected value, you have a solid basis to be able to release them. Ultimately, you shouldn’t hire a firm if you’re not willing to follow up and hold them accountable throughout the lifecycle of the project.

Hiring professional services for your defense agency is a complicated process. When you ask the right questions of a potential service provider (and the right questions of yourself), you’re able to cut through the clutter of vague proposals and empty promises and more easily pinpoint the provider that delivers the most value.

Need to improve processes at your defense or security agency with a limited schedule and budget? Click below to download this e-book from Big Sky Associates and discover how to make process improvement efforts more cost-effective for your federal agency.

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