Traditional or Milestone Consulting: Which is Best?

Read about the different types of arrangements for people like me.

Why are you here?

More than a metaphysical question, many organizations may recognize the need for consultants but remain unsure about how to use them. This article compares two of the different consulting alternatives–traditional and milestone–and the pros and cons of each. In a traditional consulting arrangement, a firm deploys a team of full-time individuals at a client site for forty hours per week, typically four days at ten hours per day per consultant. Conversely, under milestone consulting, a client employs a consulting firm to check in with them on a regular basis, ensuring that the project is both meeting its individual goals and, from a broader perspective, remains on track. A client will often hire a hybrid consultant–equal parts project manager, techie, and application expert–to visit on site every two weeks or so. Now that the definitions are out of the way, let’s discuss each in more detail.

Traditional Consulting

Consultancies typically prefer this arrangement for a number of reasons. First and foremost, traditional consulting maximizes billable time and revenue. Second, and there is more than a bit of truth to this, consultants on the ground can better steer clients in the right direction throughout the project, manage issues, and ensure an overall smoother implementation than if they were not present.

On the downside, traditional consulting tends to be the most expensive option for clients. Also, many organizations face end-user availability issues. Client end-users are often overworked and too busy to spend time with consultants. Remember, end-users on implementation teams have day jobs while consultants exclusively implement the new system. While consultants can work independently, at certain points, client input is imperative. Consultants on site are billing regardless of whether their skills are being used efficiently or not. In the rare event that a project is running ahead of schedule, rare is the consulting company that attempts to move dates up or suggests that its consultants do not need to be on site for several weeks.

Milestone Consulting

Benefits of this approach include keeping costs to a minimum. Also, to the extent that the consultant’s arrival is known well in advance, end-users can focus on their day jobs during the week knowing that they will devote certain days to the new system, coinciding with the arrival of the consultant. In theory, this can be more efficient.

This method should be used judiciously, as it is rife with potential disadvantages. For one, there may be no one keeping an eye on the implementation on a daily basis, allowing goals and dates to fall by the wayside. Issues may not be broached in time to address them without impacting a go-live date. Also, the implementation’s flow may suffer. Projects that constantly start and stop often lose momentum. Projects with more interruptions have a greater chance of failure and milestone-based approaches tend to have this limitation.

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