Above and beyond RFPs, it's important for busy consultancies to parcel out their presales wisdom prudently. For example, OpenBI often gets inquiries from .Net shops about open source business intelligence platforms. While we're always willing to have technical discussions with these firms, we know full well that no .Net company we've ever prospected has opted for an OSBI solution. Given that "predictive" model, it's unwise for us to invest too heavily with such opportunities.
Unwise practice No. 5: The handling of confidentiality, IP, and noncompetition terms
While dirty consultant trick No. 4 is all about the consultancy taking intellectual property hostage from customers, my experience in small tech consultancy management over the years has been just the opposite: Prospects sometimes insist on onerous confidentiality, IP, and noncompetition clauses in the contracted Master Services Agreements that hold the consultancy for ransom.
A mutual nondisclosure agreement is the point of departure for all serious customer discussions. This is an innocuous document that very few companies/consultancies balk at signing. One recent prospect, though, asked what "secrets" we needed to protect. The answer: Plenty. We don't want project plans embedded in SOWs to be shared with other consultancies, just as customer product plans are not to be seen by their competitors. Also, consulting resumes and rate structures are proprietary, not to be used in negotiations with competitors.
More recently, attorneys negotiating for a customer proposed a work-for-hire clause in the contract, acknowledging that the customer owns the work products produced -- fine and good. In addition, though, they tried to stipulate that OpenBI could not reuse even the technical concepts we developed to implement the products. In effect, we would be prohibited from introducing our own algorithms and other technical IP, and we'd be forced to lobotomize all staffed resources after the project ended. A sensible project sponsor intervened a few weeks later, supporting language that allowed both parties to protect their interests.
Four years ago, a startup customer insisted on a two-year noncompete with companies in its broad health care analytics sector for the prospect of a $20,000 engagement. We ended up not collaborating.
Over the years, we've repeatedly found that if a prospect doesn't respect the IP and confidentiality rights of the services firm, it's a strong sign they'll be difficult to deal with in the unavoidable gray areas of project management. The sales, negotiation, and contracting process that leads to an engagement is just as much an interview by the consultancy as it is of the consultancy.
Unwise practice No. 6: Involving consultants in internal political battles
In almost all of OpenBI's engagements, we work with both IT and the business. On some occasions, the relationship between business and IT is strained, and that ill will imposes itself on projects, often leading to avoidable costs for the customer. While it's perfectly acceptable to use consultants to help find common ground between warring parties, it's not acceptable to trot them out as mouthpieces for personal agendas.
One project we engaged in a few years ago was repeatedly off-tracked by political bickering between business and IT. While the project was spinning its wheels, the consultant meter continued to run. The engagement was salvaged, fortunately, by a senior executive who used our project insights to persuade IT and business to play nice.