Managing Multiple Consultants

Title: Managing Multiple Consultants

Phase(s): Pre-Preliminary Engineering

Category: Management

Date: January 26, 1996

1. Background

It is fairly typical of Grantees embarking on "new start" projects to establish a policy of maintaining minimum project management staff, and engage consultants to perform most of the specialized functions of project development and first line management. Usually, this policy is intended to avoid the difficulties associated with recruiting and maintaining a large number of diversely qualified personnel for relatively short term assignments.

During the 1960's and 1970's, the implementation of this concept was generally accomplished by engaging one or more "General Consultants" that could provide the organization, experienced staff, and sub-consultants to perform most of the technical and management functions essential to the project development process. Each General Consultant was required to have an experienced Project Manager in charge of the work who reported to the Grantee. On larger projects, the Grantee had a staff hierarchy somewhat parallel to that of the Consultant which would make possible some level of management oversight of the Consultants' work. The depth and breadth of this oversight was solely dependent on the capacity and capability of the grantee's management staff.

The subject Grantee, due to budgetary constraints imposed by its Board, opted to eliminate the level of project management provided by a general consultant. Among the Board's concerns were the apparent high cost of a General Consultant, and the limitation of opportunities for small local consulting firms to participate in the work. The Grantee devised a plan that maximized the use of consultants while maintaining a minimum project management staff. As implemented, the new project management scheme provided for a consultant to prepare all preliminary section design and to review the milestone submittals of all other section design consultants; another consultant to oversee the efforts of the suppliers of each operating system; numerous specialty consultants to perform systems integration, cost/schedule/budget control, quality assurance audits, and various other functions. Construction management of civil works in the field was performed by consultants: one each per construction contract.

2. The Lesson

The results of this proliferation of consultants was that the Grantee's budgeted project management staff was stretched too thin to adequately manage the multitude of contracts, or control consultant activities. Uniform procedures to govern consultant activities, particularly construction management, were developed either after the work started or not at all. In the absence of uniform agency procedures, most consultants resorted to the use of their various company procedures, resulting in a lack of uniformity from contract to contract. This made oversight, control, and activity audit difficult, requiring more management oversight staff than were available. The limited Grantee construction management staff tended more toward providing support to the various construction management consultants, rather than managing and controlling them.

3. Applicability

The lesson learned from this experience is that the Grantee should be certain that its Project Management Plan identifies those functions to be performed by consultants, how many different consulting contracts are anticipated, and the qualifications and number of Grantee personnel that will be budgeted and available to manage and control the consultants. In addition, general operating procedures that apply to consultants, as well as staff, should be identified in the Project Management Plan, and a schedule for the development of these procedures should be indicated so that each procedure will be in place in time to meet the initial needs of its particular function.

4. References