In consultancy circles there are the big boys - think the top tier Deloitte, KPMG, PwC and EY as well as the mid tier, and then quite a large gap to the smaller consultancies. The big consultancies have dominated the market for many years, but we have started to see large private and government clients more willing to engage smaller consultancies on their projects. A number of environmental factors have come together to drive this change including the wide-spread use of design thinking, lean/agile approaches and in general more flexibility in work places. There are also three inherent qualities that tend to be present when working with a smaller consultancy, these are the benefits of being small, a small company that is and not a short person (like me on the right below).
Experienced Senior Consultants
In general, the smaller consultancies will have anywhere from 1-10 consultants working together to deliver projects. Each of the consultants tend to have 10+ years of experience in their specific area, making them specialists. It is common when engaging a small consultancy, to meet the consultants that you will be working with up-front during the sales process and to have then engaged and present throughout the entire delivery of the project. This provides continuity and consistency for the project, which can often be missing and problematic when working with one of the larger consultancies.
Flexible and Innovative
Senior consultants have been around the block a few times before and this gives them a number of advantages over more their junior counterparts:
They can often see challenges before they occur and sidestep them instead of running straight into them.
When issues do arise, they are calm under pressure and have a wealth of experience to draw potential solutions from.
They can evaluate a solution from a more complete perspective considering the performance, security, scalability, supportability, maintainability and commercial viability of each of the potential options.
The consultant has confidence in their ability to implement challenging and innovative technical solutions, as they have the experience of successfully doing so on many other occasions.
When working with a larger consultancy it is not uncommon for a more junior consultant to be doing the vast majority of the delivery. This means when issues do occur, they will generally need to escalate the issue up their management chain. This process can often lengthen the time as they need to brief more senior consultants in on the background of the issue. Additionally, it is more difficult for the new consultant to understand the nuances of the issue and the operating environment when they haven’t had the same hands on day to day involvement in the project. This can lead to limitations in the solutions presented and delays in the process overall.
Smaller consultancies tend to be much leaner operations. They do not have deep management structures, big administrative and supporting staff and large operational overheads. This means that the money being spent by a client on a project, is being used to pay the consultants that are working on the project, rather than on overheads. This allows a smaller consultancy to have five experts working hands on your project rather than the larger consultancy's 15 juniors, 1 manager and a distant partner who you met during the pre-sale process.
Selecting a consultancy for a project is a crucial step in a projects delivery, not every project is suitable for a small consultancy, just as not every project needs to be undertaken by a large consultancy. There are a number of advantages such as the experience, flexibility, innovation and value for money that a smaller consultancy can bring to a project. Including a mix of consultancies of various sizes, when selecting a partner, and evaluating each proposal on their merits is a great way to get started.