Knowing if and why you need consultancy support is a critical first step in the buying process. Getting your Needs Definition step wrong can lead to problems throughout the rest of the process – from poor selection to poor delivery and mismatched expectations. Helping clients to get it right, to clarify and sharpen their thinking up front is an area where both procurement teams and consultancies themselves can bring real value.

There are many kinds of consultancy projects. Sometimes the desired outcome and its associated value to the organisation can be clearly and fully described at the outset (e.g. solving an operational issue); sometimes the outcome and associated value are quite uncertain (e.g. developing a new business proposition). Also, the nature of the consulting input to the project can vary hugely: sometimes the consultancy is delivering almost 100% of the work; more often they are providing just part of the input – for example specialist skills, additional capacity, specific technical expertise, or just independent challenge and advice – whilst the client organisation provides the rest.

The first step in the Needs Definition stage is for people to think about the nature of the consultancy contribution they are looking for. The MCA Consultancy Value Framework provides a number of prompts in this respect. Here are some useful questions to ask yourself.

Once you are clear on the nature of the consultancy contribution, it is important to clearly articulate this. Some key output documentation should be produced.

In many circumstances, where the requirement is well understood, the production of the Internal Approval document and the Brief for Consultants will all be completed internally. Depending on the level of familiarity and experience of the Business Sponsor with requesting consultancy support, the level of involvement from Procurement may vary widely.  At the very least, they should be informed, but in some cases they may provide a great deal of guidance and challenge, helping to clarify thinking about the nature of the consulting support required and the types of consultancies which may be able to meet the need.

In some cases the requirement may not be well understood. Indeed it may be unclear whether a consultancy can even help. In these circumstances, as well as conferring with Procurement, there may be a need to get input from one or more consultancies themselves before firming up the requirement. This may be achieved either through informal discussions with consultancies you already know and trust, or it may be through a formal RFI process. In general, it is a good idea to engage in conversations with the consultancy or consultancies whom you are asking to bid, as well as providing a written brief, before they asking them to submit a proposal.

Consultancies do eventually propose are expected to reflect back their understanding of the need. This is a key step in ensuring there is no mismatch.