I received a case study from TopDown Consulting concerning a recent engagement in which they helped the Adecco Group, a company with 33,000 employees, through a major upgrade of Oracle Hyperion and the refinement of their data collection procedures. While this project was probably larger than anything most of us will ever have to tackle, it provides some lessons that I think we can all find useful.
Securing the engagement
As with most large engagements, this one began with a Request For Proposal (RFP). Bill McGarry of the Adecco Group had this to say about TopDown's RFP response:
Our RFP went out to four vendors, and we were immediately impressed with the response provided by TopDown Consulting. Using their strong command of this subject matter, and deep experience with Hyperion implementations, they were able to recommend alternate timing and phasing of the project that would lead to a successful outcome. In what would become a hallmark of the project, TopDown showed its ability to accurately assess our needs and identify the most efficient ways to meet those needs.
I got three points from that. First, TopDown knew the problem domain and could demonstrate that knowledge in their RFP response. Second, it sounds like they went beyond simply answering the questions posed in the RFP to outline the proposed progress of the project. That shows that TopDown had been down this road before, and already understood what it would take to stage a project of this magnitude. Third, they kept their focus on solving the prospect's problem.
The most important element in the client/consultant relationship is trust. One of the most frequent pitfalls, especially in large engagements, is the breakdown in trust that can occur when the client begins to suspect that the consultant isn't doing their job, and the consultant starts wasting energy on appearances. According to McGarry, "TopDown quickly learned our working style and culture, and instead of being 'us and them,' we became a unified team."
When things don't go right
The best laid plans can, and often do, hit snags. How you handle those can mean the difference between success and failure. From the case study:
The collaborative work style helped the team manage several challenges throughout the project. One issue was the limited access to executive stakeholders to review and sign off on progress at significant milestones. TopDown kept the project moving forward by reconfiguring the schedule and workload to focus on priorities whenever a bottleneck was encountered. The team also experienced some problems with an outsourced data center, which led to issues with the software installation. To counter this challenge, TopDown set up an offline development environment to continue with the design and build process.
Just because the client hired you doesn't mean everybody wants you to succeed. The larger the client, the more likely you'll run into some resistance within their organization. TopDown handled this by actively recruiting advocates within the organization:
Technology aside, change management was also a significant part of the Adecco project. Despite the many downsides of the existing software and process, there was hesitancy among company stakeholders to give up a familiar system for something unknown. Again, TopDown's collaborative work style enabled them to successfully work through Adecco's change management challenges. Throughout the rollout process, key members of Adecco's financial systems team were always present during training sessions led by TopDown. This, paired with constant communication throughout the implementation about the system and its capabilities, established a strong core of knowledgeable advocates that could help the broader financial team quickly adopt Hyperion Planning. The internal advocates were so confident and knowledgeable about the system that they began running regular "lunch and learn" training sessions without any assistance from TopDown.
Delivering on your promises
"We've raised the bar with this deployment, and now have a scalable solution that can be deployed with a snap of a finger," said McGarry. "TopDown did an excellent job of maintaining the schedule, and at end of day, hit every single target end-date of each phase, and completed the entire project under budget."
I'm sure the TopDown people assigned to this project worked hard on it, but I suspect that the real key to this happy outcome is that they didn't promise things they couldn't deliver.
Making yourself obsolete
The true sign of success in a consulting engagement is when you're no longer needed. As Beverley Sentell, manager at TopDown, said:
This was a successful project because Adecco collaborated with us from day one, working alongside the TopDown team to learn the applications and become proficient in their use by the end of the implementation.
Note how she focused on making the client independently capable, and even gave them the credit for achieving that.
This sure is a rosy story. I'm happy for TopDown, and for their client the Adecco Group, that everyone seems more than satisfied with this project. Behind all these correct strategic decisions and brilliant tactical moves, there must have been a lot of past mistakes that each of the key people at TopDown had already learned from. That's the real benefit of engaging an experienced consulting firm — they've already made their mistakes on someone else.
Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant blog, he also contributes to [Geeks Are Sexy] Technology News and his two personal blogs, Chip's Quips and Chip's Tips for Developers.