Ten Tips for Selecting and Using a Consultant – 3. Decide on the selection criteria

Once the decision is made to use a consultant, and the proposed services are defined, you must agree on the criteria for selecting the right consultant for your organization. Consider the following factors:

Credentials: See if the consultant is an RAB or IRCA certified auditor or lead auditor. This certifies the person is qualified to audit ISO 9001 quality management systems. Although some competent consultants may not be certified auditors, those that are can speak from experience when they interpret requirements and assess your practices.

Ensure the auditor has been re-certified for ISO 9001:2000 audits. You can see the list of RAB certified auditors at:http://www.rabnet.com/qa_dir.htm.

Other credentials to consider are the ASQ certifications, such as, Certified Quality Manager, Certified Quality Engineer, Certified Software Quality Engineer, and Certified Quality Auditor. Some qualified consultants may not hold these designations, but if they do, it means they passed a lengthy examination on the applicable body of knowledge.

Experience: It is important to select an experienced consultant. How many years has the consultant been in business? You also want someone that has relevant experience in your specific industry sector.

Every consultant was inexperienced at one time. We all need a break to get started in a new field. You might decide to give a talented newcomer a chance, but realize the inherent risk.

Attributes: The communication skills of your consultant are extremely important. You want someone that is easily understood and relates well with all levels of the organization.

The consultant should be open-minded and flexible. You want a consultant that is able to adapt to different circumstances, since your organization may have unique traits. Being perceptive and practical are also valuable attributes. You want the consultant to see the big picture and be able to transform your needs into specific information and proposed actions.

Consultants should be tactful in dealing with people, but also confident and assertive when the need arises. You are looking for a good “time manager” that exhibits leadership skills.

Availability: You know when you want the consulting work to be done. The question is, will the consultant have sufficient days available to provide the needed support?

No sense pursuing a highly recommended consultant if no time will be available for your organization when you need it. Start early in your search for a consultant so you are not limited to just those with no scheduling conflicts (and perhaps, little business). The more qualified and experienced consultants typically are booked several months in advance.

Access: Consider how easy it has been to reach the consultant during the selection process. Has the consultant promptly returned your email messages and telephone calls? You don’t want to discover during the implementation period that your consultant is not accessible.

References: Ask the consultant for at least three references from similar organizations. Check with the listed contacts to determine their satisfaction with the work performed by the consultant. Don’t rely solely on the supplied proposal. Verify past results.

Cost: An obvious consideration will be the consultant fees and expenses. However, the decision should not be based on cost alone. The higher priced consultant may also be the most competent, and therefore, still the right choice. Everything else being roughly equal, cost may be the deciding factor.

Don’t forget to consider the travel and living costs. A consultant outside your local area will incur additional transportation, lodging, and meal expenses.