Bringing in Outside Experts

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I work for a company that likes to keep things in house. We’ve been a family-owned company for over a hundred years and one of our hallmarks has been a desire to keep our information and accumulated knowledge private and secure. So when I read Project Nightmares- Gordon Ramsay to the Rescue! the author Bill Dow struck a chord with me on several points. To briefly summarize the premise, this article advocates for an approach towards evaluating projects that is similar to what celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay does on his show Kitchen Nightmares:

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares Evaluation Process

  1. Samples the food (he tries almost the whole menu)
  2. Review of the surroundings (color, lighting, atmosphere, etc.)
  3. Review of the kitchen processes (billing, wait staff, line cooks, how orders are processed, etc.)
  4. Review of staff (including qualifications, background, experiences of owners, wait staff, bartenders, chiefs, etc.)
  5. Review of fridges (walk-in’s, freezers, food quality, etc.

The article notes that Ramsay evaluates the restaurants on the basis of his expertise. While each restaurant he observes tries to differentiate itself on one or more of the above criteria, he knows from experience what is likely to resonate with customers and what is likely to lead to disaster. He spends a brief period of time making suggestions and changes and then leaves to head onto the next reclamation project. Dow argues that many companies and project managers would benefit from bringing in an experienced outsider to take the temperature of their efforts and get things back on track if necessary. He argues that the evaluation process could look something like this:

Project Management Evaluation Process

  1. Review the project health data (Is the Project in Red status, is the budget Green, Risks/Issues…etc.)
  2. Review project deliverables (no getting around it, you are going to have to look at the deliverables and the content)
  3. Review project processes (Look for areas going well and areas of improvement, how does the project manage change? What about the budget process?)
  4. Reviews project resources (Look at their qualifications, their background, experiences…etc.)
  5. Talk to customers and team members (how are the relationships, what is the working environment like…etc.)

Dow believes a major shortcoming in many projects is a lack of objectivity in the evaluation process. While project managers should be responsible for keeping their projects and teams on track, Dow writes that traditional project audits may lack efficacy in uncovering the pitfalls that could bring the project off the rails. While checklists may ensure a basic level of progress is made on a project they are not always able to guarantee that a project is headed for its intended destination. Dow is not arguing for bringing in outsiders to run the project but rather advocating for bringing in an expert in the relative field to gauge the project’s likelihood of success based on observation and experience. To return to the example of Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay doesn’t stick around to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He shakes up the status quo, gives suggestions to the owner/management, and heads off to the next episode.

As I stated in the beginning I think there are times when my organization could benefit from hearing more from outside voices. There are times when it can feel like we’re doing the same old projects the same old way and almost know ahead of time we’ll have the same old results. I’ve definitely noticed a push to change things up, but it can be hard to do that when the initiatives are being run by people accustomed to doing things a particular way.

I’d be interested to hear about your organizations and any experience you have in dealing with outside experts. How do your companies and teams keep projects on target?

 

3 thoughts on “Bringing in Outside Experts

  1. One area in which my company depends on outside experts is employee training. In the past, a segment of our our Human Resources department created training material in house, but in the past 2-3 years we shifted this course development to 3rd party vendors. The choice of vendor depends on the subject matter and overall business need. For some courses, a collaborative effort between my company and the vendor is necessary, but for other material, the decision is made to embrace the outsider’s perspective which may be different but can at times be more intuitive. Working with vendors can be expensive, but it seems that the benefit is outweighing the cost.

  2. Hi Lane, a lot of interesting points in your article. In my company the way we’ve managed outside experts is that we typically use the same ones. We have established a rapport as well as a relationship with those consultants to the point where we trust them. I have had the opportunity to work with a majority of these outside experts, and I have found that by eliminating scope creep (e.g. one vendor trying to fix something that isn’t broken or build additional functionality that doesn’t add very much value), we have been able to maintain good control over our engagements with those outside experts. I agree with Kristen’s comment, that the vendors are often expensive, but being a small company like mine is, the cost of their services far outweighs the effort that would be required to keep that work in house.

  3. We are often that “outside expert” that is brought in, and the reasons typically fall in three buckets (can be any combination of these):
    (1) They know what they need to do, but need to convince senior leadership, so need an outside opinion
    (2) They need an external/fresh view and voice to not do the same (unsuccessful) projects
    (3) They do not have the capacity to run a project like this, nor the internal expertise (it’s not a core capability for them)

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