Does an impartial consultation process really exist?

Considering that consultants spend $7,462 per year on marketing, consultancy humor comes handy to paint professional advisors as somewhat vague in their estimations.

However, there is a way to manage a process consulting business with objectivity.

If you need an external business process consultant to research and create new processes for your organization, they need to show fairness and objectivity right from the start. In fact, a fair consultation is an excellent sales pitch for winning new customers.

The First and Most Important Consultation Process Step

Customers love when they see that you’ve done the legwork and provided unbiased cost estimation.

But how can you be fully transparent in the consulting process when transparency and clarity require having the right information that you do not always have? This is why consider information a key factor in the consultation process we apply at Flash Hub.

Flash Hub Consultation Process 1

Lies Told During the Consultation Process

A customer typically comes with a request that looks vague in terms of how it needs to be executed. They are clear in terms of product or service delivery but they cannot tell you the way to deliver their requirement.

Why Only One Business Consultant Is Not Enough

Experience has shown us that asking one individual person or organization about delivery is not a reliable way to collect precise and relevant information about a project.

The main reason for the lack of impartial consulting is that most experts possess specific skills or experience that don’t always include a broad range of jobs.

That’s not a huge surprise. It happens for the following three reasons:

  • Training to become the best expert in a certain area.
  • Attachment to familiar opinions or information.
  • Bias – consultants cannot be 100 % unbiased, even if they wanted to.

Therefore, an objective consultation process is tricky. Most agencies that collect specific information targeting just one business process consultant get, in one way or another, biased estimations.

Edgar Schein’s Process Consultation Tips

We can find an interesting explanation of the lack of inadvertent objectivity in Edgar Schein‘s process consultation research. Difficulties in the process arise from unclear client roles. We can’t tell who is the client, there may be intermediary or multiple clients represented by one consultant. There are also expectations from the client and the consultant regarding the consultant relationship and what will they get from it.

How to Be an Impartial Consultant

Schein’s solutions about improving the business process consultation include the following principles:

  • Focus on help – that’ what clients expect from consultants
  • Deal with the reality of the situation
  • Recognize ignorance – you don’t know everything. The sooner you admit that, the better.
  • Treat every question and newly gained insight is an intervention.
  • Whoever created the problem, has the solution, too. That is the client.
  • Balance flow and opportunity.
  • Be ready for surprises and don’t let them push you out of track.

Finally, the most important pickup from Edgar Schein’s work is that no one included in the consultation process has complete knowledge of the reality of the situation. That is why you can’t get all expertise from a single consultant. You need more to get a better grasp of real estimates and precise numbers.

3 Factors that Impact Consultant’s Objectivity

No expert will be an expert on all aspects of a complex project.

1. Narrow (Specific) Skills

Let’s say a customer approaches you with an idea to develop an e-commerce business. You will most likely propose a solution based on your past experience.

If you have Drupal developers on your team, they will suggest building a CMS in Drupal, without even considering alternatives, such as WordPress, for example.

A similar pattern repeats for most large projects. There are no expert consultants who can tell you all bits about website usability, performance, scalability, and other variables included in complex products and services.

2. Conflict of Interest

On the other hand, all experts are at some point salespeople. The cost estimates they provide aren’t based on their skills only: they also include a healthy dose of self-interest.

3. Experience

The more experienced a process consultant gets, the more biased they become. Specialization tweaks objectivity.

You have to know how to figure out the impact of skills, experience, and self-interest in the overall set of variables for completing a project. Only then you can say that you’ve completed the impartial consultation process.

Flash Hub: Broader Experience Model for the Business Consultation Process

Here is what you need to do to cut through the truth:

Base the cost estimation consultancy on a broader experience model.

Set up a consultation process that helps you collect multiple experiences to make the process for customers as objective as possible.

Otherwise, you end up with too many unknown variables and limited individual experiences that blur objectivity.

To get rid of this bias effect, you need to ask:

  • Multiple people
  • The right people, and
  • The right questions.

Flash Hub Consultation Process 3

Who are the right people and what are the right questions will become obvious as you follow the process we have set up at Flash Hub.

Ask Many Right People the Same Question

Once you have the big-picture requirements from a customer, you can broadly define all variables which are part of the product, service, or system you are developing.

  • Make sure you don’t ask only one person.
  • Don’t ask random people.
  • Ask people with extensive experience to avoid conflict of interest.

Let’s go back to the example of a client working on an e-commerce solution.

Instead of asking a single Drupal developer because it’s familiar to run the consultation process in this way, go for several experts with a wider range of jobs in their work history.

For instance, an impartial expert could also know about Shopify, Magento, and WooCommerce. They will not favor a specific solution because they won’t have any personal interest to do so.

Depending on the question complexity, you can ask 3 to 5 people. Or, you can ask as many as 10 to 20 people if the question is tricky and perplexing and there is no way to complete the consultation process with only a handful of opinions.

How to Find Unbiased Consultants

Freelance platforms provide are a great way to find multiple experts for an even-handed consultation process.

The main point is not to narrow down your focus to people who call themselves consultants when research. An expert who can provide a valid opinion is anyone with a solid share of experience, past job success, and a happy client portfolio.

There are other ways to get in touch with experts. You can go the usual way and hire a consulting business.

However, when you hire consulting experts via virtual remote teams, you get an additional layer of objectivity.

  1. Independent freelance consultants consider process variables you haven’t even thought of.
  2. Additional variables and more opinions provide a crystal-clear picture of the consultation process.
  3. You get a precise cost estimate for the product or service you’re developing.
  4. Finally, you get an extra advantage against your competitors who’ve used individual consultants or a business consultancy firm.

The Benefit of Getting Different Answers to Your Questions in the Consultation Process

What usually happens in the process of collecting answers from multiple sources is that you get very different answers to the same question.

That’s a good thing. In fact, that is a great thing.

When this fact comes to light, you’ll understand that you’ve missed a step. You either haven’t asked enough people or you haven’t asked the right people the right questions. Also, you’ll know that some variables are missing from the consultation process.

What do you need to do next?

1. Arrange a video call with all experts who provided input.

Bring them together in the same virtual space, a conference call, or a collab board. Ask them the same question at the same time.

Here is a list of questions that can help you clarify any inconsistencies in the consultation process:

  • I asked all of you the same questions and each gave me a different answer. Why is this so?
  • I need to understand where this difference comes from. Tell me more, please.
  • Did you make any assumptions or missed variables in the cost estimate?

2. Listen to the discussion.

Although not all consultants will agree on everything, you will learn an important lesson. You will know how to refine the questions.

The fact is, if you don’t know the questions you need to ask about a problem, you don’t really understand the problem.

The refined, precise questions can then serve as the basis to collect quotes from specific experts when you dive deeper into understanding what the customers want.

3. Filter the process with specific consultants.  

Customers don’t always know how to put a name on technology. For example,  they don’t make a difference between CMS, libraries, and frameworks. Consequently, they often go for a monolithic technology solution which costs them more than they could get from a molecular approach.

But a monolithic system does not provide all functionalities. Customers frequently end up with pricey and partially ineffective products. At this point, you need to ask specific questions. This will help you to:

  • Gather precise product or service requirements.
  • Understand the reality of the problem, and
  • Find the best people to solve it.  

Customers don’t need an expensive solution that they believe will do everything. 

Therefore, break down the questions in small pieces. Such filtering will remove the huge price for a monolithic solution out of the equation. In contrast, you will be able to provide a correct estimate for smaller chunks of work.

Experience as a Gamechanger  

The objective consultation process is not wrapped in unhealthy self-interest. It is a result of the experience that helps you gain full control and understanding of what the client wants.

What’s even more important, you can present this transparent consultation process to your customers, so that they get an idea of how you’ve come up with prices to what you are selling.

The Best Way to Delight Customers with Expert Consultation

Impartial consulting based on a broader experience model is a powerful addition to any digital agency’s portfolio. It’s also a great sales pitch for face-to-face meetings.

When you present the cost estimates to clients, recommend the best way forward by picking up the most economical variant from the consultation process.

  • Offer a clear list of tasks.
  • Explain who will do what, and
  • Elaborate why do you think that’s the best process for the problem that requires a solution.

You will end up with an unbiased estimate that’s more realistic than the estimate provided by an individual consultant.

This objective step-by-step consultation process can be used as early as in the initial product requirements gathering stage.

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