Stay away from “Part-Time Consultants,” lessons from the frontline

The worst crime is to over promise and under deliver. As consultants, at Summit Consulting Ltd, we try as much as possible to only bid for projects for which we have the internal capacity to deliver. Gone are the days where we would rely on external resources. We learned the hard way.

In 2015, we received impressive CVs from two Gentlemen who won our hearts with their experience and expertise in environmental impact assessments (EIA). Being management consultants, we had never considered expanding our service offerings to consultancies like EIAs. Those tasks were not our meat, in the consultant’s speak. But these two folks were persuasive. They told us about the opportunities available due to the increasing advocacy for environmental protection.

“Uganda is undertaking so many projects. Each project impacts the environment. We have just graduated from the UK and would want to partner with your firm to expand your offering and grow your revenues. Your work is to give us a platform to bid for the jobs. We do not intend to waste time registering a new company, and the attendant processes. Since you have been in business already, the partnership benefits all of us.”

The speech made sense.

We debriefed with my team about the proposition. Before we decide, we consider the deal-breakers or the key risks if we accepted and the benefits to be lost if we did not. Economists may call it the opportunity cost of a decision, but we love to keep it simple by examining the benefits to be lost if we do not take the decision. We noted that the Uganda Government had prioritized infrastructure development to transform the country into middle-income status. And Oil projects, road projects, energy projects, etc. were the big thing. We saw typically saw money’ dropping.’ We accepted the partnership. Our part was to allow the consultants to use our brand to bid for jobs.

We did not know that they had connections. And because of their ability to “speak English through their noses,” they came across as highly educated and exposed. We did not bother doing the background checks since we did not see a lot of risks. The terms of our partnership were clear, with all necessary disclaimers like not presenting themselves as staff or employees of Summit Consulting Ltd, and more.

Four months later, we received a notification of award for consultancy services to conduct an environment and social impact assessment (ESIA) of a project.

This award helped expose our environmental expert partners. They had won the project, fine. But they did not have an idea about how to undertake an ESIA. Because our company name was on the pedestal, our firm seniors took an interest in the project. As consultants, referrals, and testimonials are the coinage of our realm. It is easy to get another project from a satisfied customer than it is to get from a stranger prospect. Our experts had never even heard of an inception report. And had no idea of how to write one Mid-way the project, they disappeared. They ran away from the project as they could not provide answers and requests for updates from the more informed client. As the brand owners, we had to find other consultants to get the project going. In the process, we realized that it had been under billed as the “experts” had not fully interpreted and understood the terms of reference. The new ESIA consultant explained to us the scope and what the project entailed. To complete it, we would have to pay the US $15,000 over and above what they had quoted in the bidding documents!

We tried to explain to our client, who agreed to adjust the project but not by more than 30% of the original quote. For the balance, we had to finance it from our company savings. The risk was covered under our firm’s professional indemnity insurance. Incompetence is an exclusion in most insurance policies. I continue to be a student of insurance. They never pay for liars, incompetence, or fraudsters. And they are right.

Anyone who can disappear when the project scope creeps or when they fail to deliver to expectations is not worth relying on for any project and, for that matter, including on your company profile. For quality management and control, you must work with folks you trust.

Today, either you are a former consultant or auditor at one of the big four audit firms or a past client we have closely worked with in delivering client projects and can, therefore, vouch for your tenacity, competence, and expertise. Above all, the best solution has been bidding for projects for which we have internal capabilities in terms of skills, experience, tools, and approaches to start and conclude without any external help.

Do you have any experience with an associate or part-time consultant? What has been your experience?

Copyright Mustapha B Mugisa, 2020. All rights reserved.

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