Chapter 1: The Power of Working Together


Business is not what it used to be.

It used to be that a manager got up, arrived at (invariably) his office, managed the same processes, ticked the same boxes, talked to the same staff, day in day out. A consultant, when he (again, invariably) was called in - which was not very often - was present purely as an adviser, a sounding board for the manager's concerns, a person whose business school education gave him superior techniques for solving the problems his client faced.

Today's client is just as likely to have an MBA as a consultant; indeed, he or she may be an ex-consultant. The consultant is just as likely to have had line responsibilities as the manager. Clients expect consultants to be committed to their opinions and accountable for the results, to be doers as much as advisers. Consultants want to be able to share the credit if things go well; they also know that they will have to share the risk of failure, too. According to Derek Turner, the Managing Director of Street Management at Transport for London, and one of the clients featured in this book: ‘The days are gone when a consultant borrows the client's watch to tell him the time.'

In the last 10 years and despite a significant downturn in 2001-02, the revenues of the world's top 40 consulting firms have grown from US $17 billion to more than US $82 billion. Alongside these firms is an immeasurable number of medium-sized and small-sized firms, and independent consultants. Nor is the significance of the consulting industry confined to its size. As the case studies in this book illustrate, consultants are now used in a wide variety of capabilities in every sector of the economy, from working with hardware manufacturer Sun Microsystems to improve its problem-handling processes, to helping Sainsbury's Supermarkets outsource its massive IT function. And it is not just business that is affected - the consultants in this book have done things as varied as improving the way in which doctors can order drugs to making public transport safer.

What is driving this is a gradual shift away from thinking about organizations as permanent structures, which have to have all the facilities, resources and skills they need in-house, to treating them as portfolios - of opportunities to be exploited, threats to be minimized, problems to be solved, resources to be deployed. As a greater proportion of work in organizations becomes project-based, it makes sense to turn to organizations that are accustomed to working in this way and have specialist knowledge of particular fields - consulting firms. Why insist that everyone on a project has to come from your own organization when consulting firms may have the specific know-how you need, experience of solving the same issues before, and new tools and techniques?

However, the fact that consultants can add value in this project-based environment does not mean that they always do so. Inept consultants, overselling, lack of innovation, ambiguous scope and conflicting aims are just some of the reasons for poor-quality consulting.

The case studies in this book (see Table 1.1) illustrate how both consulting firms and their clients are working to improve the contribution consultants make and the effectiveness of management overall.

Table 1.1: Projects, organizations and consulting firms featured in this book

Case study



Consulting Firm


Customers driving local services

Westminster City Council

PA Consulting Group


Reinventing a core offer

BT Business



How to build a new digital city every two years

International Olympic Committee

Atos Origin


Living the brand - for real




Delivering safer buses

Transport for London

PA Consulting Group


Electronic payments for 13 million citizens

Department for Work and Pensions

PA Consulting Group


Protecting the benefits of staff in transition

Apache Corporation

Mercer Human Resource Consulting


Diagnosing and treating workforce ailments

Evotec OAI

Penna Consulting


Standing down, moving forward

Ministry of Defence

Right Management Consultants


Blue skies, blue bills and online breakthroughs

BT Retail



Smarter methods to beat constraints

Norwich Community Hospital

Ashridge Consulting Ltd


Relocating the organization and redesigning its mind

Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)

PA Consulting Group


Bringing rationality to bear

Sun Microsystems



Changing people for a change

Harrogate Healthcare NHS Trust



Releasing the future from the present

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award International Foundation



Closing the net on persistent offenders

Home Office

PA Consulting Group


Great journeys and small steps

Transport for London



Mobile technology as enabler and enforcer

Bradford Hospitals NHS Trust

Atos Origin


When small businesses go global

All England Lawn Tennis Club



Evolving the outsourcing market

Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency

PA Consulting Group


Outsourcing for outcomes

Vehicle and Operator Services Agency

Atos Origin


Gearing up for renewed battle

Sainsbury's Supermarkets Ltd



Pioneering multi-channel voting

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister



Collaborating systems drive down costs

BAE Systems Customer Services

CSC Computer Sciences Corporation


A knowledge portal helps close the deprivation gap

Neighbourhood Renewal Unit

PA Consulting Group


Flow, streams and the erosion of resistance


Impact Plus

If these lessons could be summed up in one word, it would be partnership. As the firms profiled here have recognized, neither clients nor consultants benefit from a confrontational environment in which each side is seeking to promote its own interest at the expense of the other. Of course, partnership is a dangerous word to use in this context, abused as it has been by a generation of marketing literature from consulting firms that paid lip-service to an idea that was rarely realized in practice. During 2000-02 the term was jilted in favour of a heavy reliance on rigid contractual arrangements. A genuine partnership, however, involves a combination of the two.

At a corporate level, it is clear that the aims of each side need to be closely matched. Each party needs an incentive to behave and contribute in a way that supports the collective effort, not self-interest. In most of the projects described in this book, the consulting firms are not being remunerated according to time spent, but to objectives met. Most clients are sharing, not just the risks of a project going badly, but the rewards of it going well.

At an individual level, people simply have to get along. A close working relationship, mutual respect and openness among the people involved will carry a project through the bad times as well as the good far more effectively than a contract will.

Put these two things together and you can - as the case studies show - achieve extraordinary things. ‘What's the key lesson?' asked one client. ‘The power of working together.'

But there are other lessons, too.

The first years of the new millennium have been difficult ones for the consulting industry. Client cynicism - the result of frustration with a succession of management fads that have failed to deliver - combined with economic downturn have put the consulting industry under unprecedented pressure to defend the contribution it makes to clients. In place of the implementation of large-scale IT systems, clients have focused on a better use of their existing assets; instead of developing visionary strategies for emerging markets, they have concentrated on cost-reduction closer to home. There was something of an improvement during 2003 and the first half of 2004 (as this book went to press), with consulting firms' order books filling up and key sectors, such as financial services, starting to use consultants again.

Every year, as part of the awards process, the MCA carries out a survey (the MCA Awards Survey) of the projects submitted for consideration. Clients and consultants are separately asked to discuss:

  • the factors that led to the consulting firm winning the work;

  • the challenges faced;

  • the client-consultant relationship;

  • the aims of the project and the extent to which these were achieved.

This material provides some important insights into the consulting industry as it moves into a more buoyant market.

Management Consulting in Practice. Award-Winning International Case Studies
Management consulting in practice; award-winning international case studies.
ISBN: B001K2F3T0
Year: 2003
Pages: 69 © 2008-2017.
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