Selecting a Consultant

Choosing a qualified consultant is no easy task. The importance of taking the time to make a thoughtful selection cannot be underestimated. Your choice could end up affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of your business operations.

1. Understand the reasons for using a consultant
Why do organizations use consultants? An organization may realize it lacks the expertise, time, experience, or objectivity to perform the work without outside assistance.

2. Identify the services you need from consultants
Competent consultants should not only be able to plan the activities, document your processes, and recommend system improvements, but also suggest good practices, teach on-site classes, and conduct internal audits.

3. Decide on the selection criteria
You must agree on the criteria for selecting the right consultant for your organization. Some factors to consider include experience, credentials, skills, availability, accessibility, cost, and references.

4. Find prospective consultants
Now it’s time to locate possible candidates. There isn’t a single directory of consultants, so you may consider prior use, referrals, associations, consulting guides, advertisements, trainers, certification bodies, and the Internet.

5. Request a proposal
Ask the consultant candidates to submit proposals for your evaluation. To help them propose the appropriate services, include the following information in your request: scope, timing, methods, fees, and expenses.

6. Choose the consultant
Evaluate the proposals using the agreed selection criteria. Know in advance who will participate in the evaluation and make the recommendation. You want the decision fully supported so the consultant can work effectively with your organization.

7. Negotiate the terms
Confirm the consulting fees and estimated expenses. Although negotiating the terms of the agreement remains to be done, you will make your initial decision based on the available facts. Remember, consultants may reduce their quoted rates to win your business.

8. Prepare the agreement
It is very important to get a written agreement. Make sure everyone has the same understanding and expectations. The agreement could be a legal contract or simply a letter of understanding. The bigger the job, the more formal the agreement.

9. Manage the consultant
Even an expert consultant needs to be managed well. Ensure that the primary contact at your organization fully accepts this coordination role. Any issues or misunderstandings must be promptly resolved.

10. Evaluate the results When the project completes, evaluate the results. Were the deliverables acceptable? Were they produced on schedule? Did the outcome satisfy the objectives? Assess the consultant’s performance. Did the consultant do a good job of planning? Was the plan followed without significant deviation? Were you kept informed throughout the project? Did the consultant work well with others and foster teamwork?

If thoughtfully selected and wisely used, a consultant can be a valuable partner in setting up or improving your quality management system. However, remember that the system is owned by your organization.