Internal Teams Can Deliver Consultancy-grade Results

A few weeks ago I finished a turn-around project I carried out with an internal project team. I feel that this project is a perfect example of how internal teams can carry out projects that most people think will require a large external team of high-powered consultants.

After the management team had repeatedly failed at developing a structured and believable turn-around plan the owners of the company seriously considered bringing in external consultants. However, as they were "consulting-tired" they decided to try an approach with an internal project team with external coaching. A team consisting of a fairly young group of female middle-managers who had critical minds, good analytical skills, and the ability to think "outside of the box", and were respected within the organization were given the task and I was asked to provided a critical outside-in perspective to the team.

The team delivered a coherent overview of why the company was losing money, and suggested a package of twenty initiatives in four main areas:
*Improved marketing through more focused use of distribution channels, focus on certain segments, and a move away from selling small (loss-making) projects
*Professionalizing the end-to-end process for selling and carrying out projects (clearer scope definition, value- instead of cost-based pricing, improved hand-overs to the engineering teams, more intense follow-up of budgets, etc)
*Large reduction of supporting costs through a detailed added-value analysis of existing activities
*Structural reorganization of the company, leading to less management layers, clearer and more focused responsibilities, etc

The company is currently successfully implementing these initiatives, and it is expected that it will be profitable (for the first time in five years) in 2011. The key lessons to be learnt from this process can be divided into general lessons related to the choice for an internal team, and lessons related to how an internal team dealing with such a complex issue can be helped to become successful.

The key lesson must be that internal project teams can successfully deliver "consultancy-grade" results. Sponsors of this project agree that there are only marginal differences between what this team delivered (including the key fact that it delivered on time) and what their favorite top-level consultant would have delivered. In addition, the work carried out by this team has resulted in automatic buy-in through-out the organization, and a fast and (so far) successful implementation.

Key lessons from this project related to ensuring that a team will be successful include:
*Ensure that the right people are made available for the project (skills, attitude, network, etc)
*Give the project a flying start by ensuring that that the goals and expected deliverables have been clearly defined
*Give the team a kick-off that enables the team to take ownership of the project (develop hypotheses and approach, etc)
*Follow-up on work done by individual team members to ensure that it follows a logical and focused structure and gives clear conclusions and recommendations that are supported by facts
*Ensure that the team communicates through-out the whole process (internally in the team, to key stake-holders, etc)

While every situation is specific, I am sure that any project team that follows these fairly generic lessons will be successful. However, the specifics of doing this can be challenging for an organization that is new to this way of working. Therefore it will usually make sense to also involve an external coach that can provide the team with a structured approach, ongoing help in developing and carrying out analytical activities, and developing overall conclusions.

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