September 2002 | How-To | Ten Tips

Choosing the Right Logistics Consultant

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Choosing a logistics consultant should not be a search for the lowest-cost solution, but rather a search for experience and success based on definitive criteria. Dr. Dick Powers, CEO and president of the Bend, Ore., and Manassas, Va.-based consulting firm INSIGHT, which solves logistics and supply chain issues with optimization-based solutions, offers these tips for selecting the right consultant:

1. Ask for a record of success. Find out if the consultant in question has done the type of work that you are asking for help with. Request a client list and check the references. Gather proof of technical certification.

2. Use technological expertise as criteria. Consultants should consider leveraging your current technology investment instead of requiring new purchases, if possible. Make sure the consultant can build solutions that take full advantage of leading-edge technology and accommodate rapidly changing technology. They should plan for huge traffic volumes, increasingly diverse applications, and constantly evolving technology. Their solutions should be scalable to protect your company's investment.

3. Choose a listener. Make sure the consultant in question takes time to understand your business goals and objectives. Did he do all the talking during your meeting? Or did he take time to understand your business operation and goals, then offer a clear and compelling vision of solutions that meet your objectives?

4. Select experience. Does the consultant have solid financial footing? You don't want to use a consulting firm that will be out of business in a year. Establish effective programs for knowledge transfer, software/hardware updates, and support. Determine if the consulting firm has published works or other documentation about its key personnel.

5. Get a detailed business plan. Make sure the consultant has a proven methodology for what he/she will do. The methodology should consist of specific steps and guidelines that ensure current technology is leveraged, your team is involved in each phase of the project, and all applications and development steps are fully documented and supported. The process should include milestones with quality assurances built into control points.

6. Check out the management plan. Consulting firms must have programs in place to manage each project for defect, risk and issue tracking, change management control, and contact information. Ask how they will manage the task and control their process.

7. Look at its resources. Does the potential consultant have all the resources necessary to provide whatever help the assignment needs? Consider how large the company is and whether it will have the right mix of people available when needed. The consultant may need to use subcontractors to meet a tight deadline or for special requirements. Get a description of the people who will be engaged in your project: their values, experience, knowledge, and skills.

8. Ask if the firm believes in teamwork. Does the potential consultant allow the team to work together? Ask if the firm mentors and trains its clients. This is an effective way to transfer knowledge to those who will use it daily. Consultants need to establish a rapport with key staff in your organization. They should be willing to listen to your requirements, explain their reasoning and, where appropriate, modify their proposals in light of your comments.

9. Search for a consultant who will accommodate your corporate culture. Consultants should accommodate their clients' business practices, not make them conform to standards.

10. Seek out flexibility and organizational skills. The consultant must be able to reorganize its current team to meet your current and future goals. If your business changes, will the consultant be able to readapt processes quickly to meet your new requirements?

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