When clients engage consultants for projects, one of the most reviewed metrics is the burn rate. What is the burn rate? In reference to project management, this is the rate at which the consultant team will burn through the project budget. Sometimes this is captured by project metric variances like “% Budget Used vs. Project Completion %”.
Time = money and this especially rings true with time & materials projects. However, not everything has to be left to the usual course of fate with consultant projects. As a client, there are at least 6 controllable things that you can do to reduce the consultant burn rate.
1. Don’t request expense receipts for anything over $25.
There are different protocols for each business, so this may not be completely within your control. When consultants fill out their time sheets and expense reports, they are most likely charging you for this administration time. If you require receipts under $25, you’re asking the consultant to take an additional 10+ minutes per expense report to document those receipts. Expense reports are normally filled out weekly. That weekly 10 minutes adds up. If a consultant charges $200/hour that’s $200 of just scanning/photographing these additional expense receipts every 6 weeks.
Why did I pick $25? When I reviewed 5 random expense reports from this year, that was the magic cutoff number. Expenses under $25 account for more than half of my personal client expense reports. In addition, this amount is usually low enough not to raise any alarm bells by audits.
2. Show up on time to meetings.
I was on a project many years ago where meetings took up 6 or more hours of our 10-hour workdays. In many of these meetings, there were 8 consultants present. The reason why I remember this is because the client people necessary to these meetings were notoriously 10-15 minutes late.
Do the math. If you’re 10 minutes late and there are 6 consultants present in the meeting, you’ve just wasted an hour of consultant time. If the average consultant charges $200/hour, your tardiness cost the project budget $200. Now multiply that by the number of consultant meetings you’re late for in a single day. Granted…some things at work are unpredictable and these things occasionally happen. But if you quantify your tardiness in terms of the consultant budget, you might think differently about how you prioritize your time.
3. Subsequently, make your meetings count.
There are books written on this very topic, so I’m not attempting to write another one. In a nutshell, if there are 6 consultants in a 1-hour long meeting (each charging $200/hour), your meeting just cost you $1200. It’s important that your meetings accomplish their goals. Here are some quick tips to making your meetings count.
Confirm that a meeting is warranted. Not every piece of information, decision, or question needs a meeting to support it. Sometimes things can be resolved through a simple email or phone call. My personal rule of thumb is: anything that requires 10+ minutes of discussion, has a clear purpose and goal, and can’t be resolved through email or phone requires a meeting.
Prepare in advance. If the consultant team asks you to come with X materials (documents, reports, etc.) then make sure you bring those items to the meeting. These materials might make or break the entire meeting. If the consultant team needs a decision on how to handle X situation, then you need to make sure that you’ve figured this out prior to the meeting. If the consultant team needs specific information from you to make X decision on their side, then make sure that you have the appropriate people in the meeting to give that information.
Invite the right people. Do you really need 6 consultants in that meeting? Do you really need 12 people in your meeting at all? Too many people = indecisiveness or leads to analysis paralysis. Make sure that everyone invited has a fundamental purpose for the meeting.
Run meetings efficiently. There’s nothing worse than sitting through a meeting that has gone off the rails. I’m sure both consultants and clients can relate. I’d advise that every meeting have a designated leader who 1) keeps the meeting on track and 2) watches the time. In addition, the purpose of the meeting should be stated up front to keep the group focused. A pre-published agenda usually helps in this case. Finally, there’s no reason to make a meeting run longer than it needs to. If a meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes and all goals are met in the first 10 minutes, then let everyone go. They probably need to get back to work.
Ensure that the meeting goals are met. It’s usually a good idea to state the meeting goals at the beginning of the meeting, in addition to the meeting purpose. This way people know why they’re there and when the meeting is over. If there are last-minute people adds to the meeting, it’s also great practice to state why each person was asked to be part of the meeting so they know their role regarding the meeting goals.
4. Have a designated decision maker.
When a designated decision maker is agreed upon up front, this person plays a fundamental role in how decisions are made on a project. I’ve seen project hours seemingly wasted that could be attributed to indecision or disagreements on the client’s part. You will need a strong person for this role. This person will be the tie-breaker when there is disagreement and the leader when there is uncertainty. In case there is concern with having a single person making final decisions, know that a strong consulting team will push back if they don’t agree.
5. Begin the security access process prior to the consultant arriving onsite.
There might be some protocols that this recommendation violates. But for companies that don’t have a problem starting security access prior to consultants arriving onsite, please consider it. The first week of any project is usually the “dead” week. I’ve found that productivity and efficiency slow down to 25-50% due to lack of access. This lack of access usually includes building access, network access, VPN access, and system access, at a minimum. Paperwork has to be filled out and then the consultants have to wait…and wait…and wait. In addition, in my particular line of work consultants need to be given a list of servers, URL’s, software version numbers, etc. to access client systems. Consultants are going to be most productive when they have access to things. They want to get going as quickly as you want them to – consider making this process as expedient as possible.
6. Make travel logistics easy.
For projects that consultants have to travel for, consider creating a document that centralizes all of their travel logistics. What airports should consultants be flying into? What hotels and rental car companies do you have corporate rates already established with and what are those codes? Are there any unusual travel fees/tolls/fares that consultants should be prepared to pay en route? What is the process for entering the building the first time? What is the address (and suite/floor) of your location? What time do you want them to be onsite? What is the dress code? What is your contact information?
These are all questions that consultants have to figure out. Sometimes the consultant project manager consolidates this information into a single document so that all new project members won’t have to hunt for it. Sometimes the consultants work on this information individually and then end up burning through project budget. Wouldn’t you rather do this yourself and save some money?