How to Find an Unbiased ERP Consultant

How to Find an Unbiased ERP Consultant

So, some unbiased consulting help is what you’re looking for? You need help with a much-needed ERP transformation project.

Let’s set the scene. You’re making a decision that has serious ramifications for the business:

  • Possible high cost project
  • A high visibility initiative
  • Will require a complex effort to implement
  • Implementation itself will be disruptive to certain parts of the operation
  • There will be a long tail of consequences – some of them unintended

This kind of consequential decision can be nerve-wracking. How can you be sure you’re doing the right thing? In the face of this kind of stressful uncertainty, it can help to engage with an expert – a consultant.

One thing that we have learned a tremendous amount recently has been the workings of the human brain. In particular, I’m pointing toward the work of Kahneman and Tversky on cognitive biases. One thing we learn about cognitive biases is that we all have them. A primary reason to bring in an expert is to try to neutralize or overcome our own biases, such as confirmation bias, where we tend to see what supports our beliefs, and the halo effect, where a positive or negative impression can influence all future observations.

This is all well and good, except that the very hiring of such a consultant can be nerve-wracking in its own way. How can you be sure to find an unbiased consulting service to give you the best possible advice and counsel? Don’t consultants have their own biases?

The extreme case of the unbiased consultant is what David Maister calls a trusted advisor, who keeps an open mind to the market and a single-minded focus on the well-being of their client. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have such a person already that you can turn to. The thing about trust is that only you can know whether trust exists, and it probably stems from a track record of having your best interests at heart.

On the other hand, an extreme case of bias can be conscious manipulation of information. For instance, the SABRE airline reservation system famously exercised intentional bias by grouping American Airlines flights on the first page of results, if not at the very top of the first page. This had the intended effect of influencing travel agents to bias their clients towards American Airlines flights.

But let’s assume we’re dealing with honest folks who don’t really want to take advantage of us. A common source of bias is a consultant who advises clients about products, but has a strong interest in a certain set of products. A big chunk of my career was with IBM Global Services. The service side of IBM tried to be product agnostic, but it was not so easy, whilst being part of the same company as the IBM Software Group. It was hard not to be influenced by IBM’s product choices, even with the best of intent. And, it didn’t help that Software Group maintained a private army of consultants themselves, who made no pretense of being product-agnostic.

An anti-bias measure was undertaken by the State of California procurement process. After some costly disasters, the State started to enforce a separation of the formative part of a project and the delivery part. This meant that the big players couldn’t just set up work for themselves via the decision-making process. As an IBM business architect in California, this left me with scant opportunities close to home, which contributed to my fifteen years as a road warrior!

So bias towards a particular answer can be a big issue when you’re looking for help to make hard choices and implementations. On the other hand, maybe you appreciate some level of bias. Google results that are biased toward relevance are very welcome to the searcher. Most people would rather have a highly relevant first page of results, than to have the ‘most relevant’ scattered through thousands of results pages.

It’s important to remember the relationship of bias to depth and breadth of knowledge. The deeper and the more focused our knowledge, the more biased we are to see things in those terms. The closer you are to implementation, the more the more scales tip toward deep knowledge and away from broad even-handedness, in terms of types of consulting services you’re likely to need.

Here’s a simple decision model for choosing a consultant for an ERP (or any) project in terms of the specific consulting service under consideration:

  • What benefits can we expect from this consulting service?
  • Who are the target businesses for this consulting service?
  • How does this consulting service address
    • diagnostic procedures?
    • business health factors?
    • pain points?
    • opportunities?
  • How is this consulting service delivered
    • locally, live via web, video on demand?
    • methods and tools?

Beyond the diligence with consultant prospects, you need to be very clear about your motivations and expectations for any consulting service work.

  • What sense of urgency drives a possible engagement at this time?
  • Who will need to work with this consultant? What will they be doing? Planning? BAU activities?
  • Who might object to hiring this consultant? Why? (turf issue, priority mismatch, budget, disruption, culture clash, etc.)

Any consulting service needs to fit into your overall network relationship management plan and system. Maybe what you need is a consultant who has a bias towards helping you find your next consultant!