It’s your job as a consultant to make sure the solution you deliver to a client is satisfactory. But as Ken Taormina—senior vice president at KPMG Consulting—has learned, gauging satisfaction at several intervals during the project is much more manageable than waiting until the end of the engagement.

As head of KPMG’s industrial, automotive, and transportation practice areas, Taormina draws on his experiences he gained while working for Oracle, Raytheon, General Electric, and as an independent consultant. In this edition of Consulting Q&A, I talked with him about KPMG’s client engagement process, quality-assurance efforts, and change-management procedures.

What keeps them up at night
Freedman: When you’ve completed the sales cycle and you’re starting to target the areas where you think you could add value, how do you go about defining and scoping exactly what you’re going to deliver? And how do you make sure that you and the client are visualizing the same end result?
Taormina: When we first go to a client, I ask them, “What are the five things that keep you up at night?” It’s amazing how few people ask that question, and it’s amazing how good [clients’] answers are…. Once we find out what their “pain” areas are, we say, “We’d like to ask for permission to get access to your people so we can do some interviews. We’d like to come back to you with an idea of how we could attack those five areas.” And we’ll break them down into specific functional areas…. We talk to their people on our own nickel, scope out what we feel is a solid value proposition, and then we come up with a short-term as well as a longer-term game plan….
[If they give us the go-ahead], then we scope out the specific solution and the requirements with the people in their functional area. It’s got to have functional support. One thing we’ve found is that working with IT people alone on projects is a recipe for failure. If there isn’t a functional champion, we probably will not proceed. I won’t invest time and energy in it. That means the organization will never commit, and even if they give you money, it won’t be a successful project.

Freedman: Because they’re not capable of building the consensus that’s required to change the organization.
Taormina: Yes. After we’ve got an agreement on the scope, the next thing we’ll talk about is how they want to [proceed]. For example, some people are willing to just pay for performance. For most people, time-and-material contracts are a thing of the past. At the very minimum, people are paying for a fixed price. And equity’s a joke. So we’ll scope out how they want to engage and what the deliverables are—the specific deliverables and the specific performance measurements that they’re willing to commit to. And sometimes, they still decide to shop out the work, at which point we still think we have a much better chance than anybody else. And a lot of times, they won’t shop it out because they realize we’re putting skin in the game.

Two-part interview

In the first installment of Freedman’s interview with Ken Taormina, the KPMG Consulting exec explained his firm’s philosophy and the company’s approach to the consulting process. Don’t miss it!

Freedman: You’ve made a compelling proposition.
Taormina: Yes, and they torture us to death on price. But in the end, because you’ve put a good compelling position in place, you’re able to defend your price to some degree and also get upside on the fact that you’re willing to take risk on the back end. And that’s the way we’re perceived.
When we start an engagement, we have quality review. After the engagement’s going about a month, we have an organization of very experienced partners who [perform a review]. We tell the client up front that we do this. The quality management partner goes out and is totally independent. These people report up to our CEO.

Freedman: They’re in a separate quality organization.
Taormina: Right. [The quality management partners] go through a very specific questionnaire with the client and with the team on how they’re doing things. Then they review all their work papers, the schedule, the charging on the contract—making sure we have good integrity, that the products and the deliverables are on time and are what the client wants. Then they put together an independent report that gives the project a red, a yellow, or a green [rating]. And if it gets a green, then everything is fine: The client’s happy, and [our people] are following our best practices and procedures as they’re laid out in what we call our “ruthless execution guide.” Then they send out a message to everyone, including the CEO or CFO, my boss, all the partners up the chain. If it’s a yellow, you’ve got to come back with very specific answers on how you’re going to make it a green. If it’s a red, you’ve got to come up with even more specifics, and the [project] gets laser surgery and usually an executive call and a serious review. We’ve found this has improved our delivery quality significantly. It’s decreased our write-offs and made for happier clients because they feel that we actually care about how this is going to be delivered.

Keeping them happy
Freedman: So now you’ve executed well, and you’re approaching the end of an engagement. How do you make sure the client is prepared for the operational aspects of whatever you’ve built for them, and how do you get the client to sign on the dotted line and say, “Yes, what you’ve delivered is what I expected”?
Taormina: We go through certain “toll gates” on a project. We’re almost always deliverable-based. As we hit our different milestones, or toll gates, the client signs off on the deliverable, so you don’t have to wait till the end for the client to tell you whether they’re happy or not; each milestone is a go or a no-go. And we very often get paid at these milestones or on deliverables.

Freedman: So when you say you use a toll-gate philosophy, you’re also talking about a collection philosophy as well, where you get incrementally paid as you reach certain deliverable milestones.
Taormina: Some clients let you collect monthly or twice a month, but a lot of clients also like to tie a certain amount of fee to the deliverable itself, which is fine. It’s a smart approach. When you have to pass each one of those, every deliverable becomes a quality event, because you have to make sure that you and the client are in agreement…and they’ve got to sign off on the deliverable for you to get paid.
[We also] build into the contract a transition plan and a change-management plan. We won’t necessarily sell change management; it’s up to the client. We would also set up a training program…[which we would put into action] as we went through different stages to get people more familiar with how to take the system over. Then we would do a “train the trainer” approach and set up more detailed training [as we] get ready to transition the system. We’re not really interested as a company in staying behind and running the day to day. We’re happier if the clients are confident that they can do it and don’t have to call a lot.

Freedman: So building client self-sufficiency is one of the key goals.
Taormina: Right. And that leads to what we really want: a very referenceable client. We feel that referenceability is crucial to follow-up work, not only with that client, but with the people that client does business with and other people that we’d like to reference back to the client.

Rick Freedman is the founder of Consulting Strategies Inc., a training firm that advises and mentors IT professional services firms in fundamental IT project management and consulting skills. He is author of The IT Consultant: A Commonsense Framework for Managing the Client Relationship,and two upcoming works: The e-Consultant and Building the IT Consulting Practice, both scheduled for publication later this year.

About Consultant Q&A

As a supplement to his Consultant Master Class column, Freedman periodically interviews a leading executive, practice manager, or consultant from the top IT professional service firms. According to Freedman, the practicing consultants out there every day, selling, planning, and delivering projects for clients are the real masters. By giving them a chance to share their concepts, techniques, and lessons learned, he hopes to build consensus among consultants on the industry’s best practices and methodologies. If you have a question for Rick, e-mail us.