Case Scenario 1:
Imagine that you are considering setting up in business as an independent consultant
A.C. 1.1- Explain the Need to Apply A Structured Approach in Identifying the Client Issues
Identification of client issues is a vital step in consultancy as it helps consultants prepare for the consultancy intervention. Also, it allows clients to describe to the consultant the matters at hand. Consultants need to use a structured approach in the identification of client’s needs as it fosters diagnosis of the correct client problem, agreement on the scope of work with the client, consistency in the consulting process, and management of potential risks that may arise in projects.
The use of a structured approach in the identification of client needs helps in the diagnosis of the correct client problem. For example, using a situational analysis model, a consultant can adequately analyze the difference between the client’s current situation and expectations to determine the underlying problem. This approach differs from an unstructured approach that may easily lead to the omission of vital information required in the identification of the client’s issue.
Additionally, the use of a structured approach helps foster agreement between the consultant and client regarding the scope of the work. For example, using a situation analysis model, consultants can gather adequate information about the various areas that a given project covers and specific work units that the client needs to handle. The approach differs from an unstructured technique, which limits the collection of vital data and fosters the implementation of assumptions about the scope of the project.
Also, a structured approach facilitates consistency in the consultancy process. For example, the situation analysis model comprises various stages that help analyze multiple dimensions of clients’ needs, such as identification of project stakeholders and ways to win over reluctant stakeholders. Information gathered through this approach helps the consultant to obtain data that is consistent from the different dimensions to establish clients’ needs.
Besides, a standard approach is advantageous because it enables consultants to manage risks. Notably, by systematically addressing each of the client’s needs, consultants can identify potential risks in a project and establish measures to mitigate them.
The synthesis of this information reveals that a structured approach is beneficial when utilized in the identification of client needs. It helps diagnose the correct client problems, foster client-consultant agreement, boost consistency in the consulting process, and facilitate risk management.
A.C. 1.2- Evaluate a Range of Tools and Techniques a Consultant May Use in Defining the Client Needs
Defining clients’ needs is also essential in consultancy as it enables consultants, their firms, and clients to understand the nature of the existing problems. In defining clients’ needs, consultants can use tools such as Porter’s five forces, pestle analysis, and financial and management accounts, all of which have their respective strengths and weaknesses.
Among tools used to define clients’ needs is pestle analysis. Rastogi and Trivedi (2016), aver that pestle helps evaluate the external environment before starting a project. This tool can be used to define specific clients’ needs by analyzing various external elements, such as the political and economic environment that are likely to affect a project.
Grundy and Brown (2002) state that using pestle analysis in consultancy helps the consultant focus on wider changes in the environment that encompass the client’s needs. For instance, if a client wants to set up a business of manufacturing phones, the use of pestle can help identify environmental elements such as global technological changes that the client ought to consider before starting the business. The broader view provided by this tool makes it ideal for use in defining clients’ needs.
However, the use of pestle is time-consuming. Grundy and Brown (2002) observe that PESTLE can absorb time that might have been spent on understanding valuable strategic variables. For example, applying PESTLE may require the analysis of all the six elements of the tool to define specific client’s needs. As such, time-consumption partially negates the use of the instrument in consultancy.
Alternatively, consultants can use Porter’s Five Forces tool to define clients’ needs. The comprehensive tool assesses the attractiveness of an industry in strategic management (Baburaj & Narayanan, 2016). The tool can be used to define clients’ needs by assessing the latter’s business ideas against industrial attractiveness.
The primary strength of Porter’s Five Forces is its ease in use. The tool focuses on five external factors which can help reveal whether an entrepreneur should enter a market (Bard, 2008). For example, if a client wants to establish a business in the phone assembly industry, a consultant can conveniently use the tool to determine the attractiveness of the sector. The convenience of the tool makes it ideal for use in defining clients’ needs.
However, the identified tool can also provide erroneous results, lowering its effectiveness of use in consultancy. For example, the tool appears to assume the existence of a perfect market in every industry characterized by homogenous buyers and sellers. Such assumptions can lead the consultant to focus on incorrect client needs.
Furthermore, consultants can use the technique of analyzing financial accounts to define clients’ needs. This technique involves analyzing the financial transactions within a business to help establish cash inflow and outflow. It also entails the analysis of assets and liabilities in a venture to determine its financial performance.
The key strength of using this tool is its effectiveness in helping the consultant focus attention on wider internal business aspects that encompass the client’s needs. For example, if a client’s venture is experiencing a decline in profitability, the consultant can use the tool to determine areas that require proper financial management. Besides, financial accounts entail several aspects, including operational costs that can be used to identify the client’s needs.
Nonetheless, financial accounts may provide erroneous information. For example, firms may overstate their financials in an attempt to paint a good image among potential investors. In such scenarios, consultants may not have a real picture of the firm’s performance and accurate client’s needs.
Based on an analysis of this information, it is evident that there are several techniques that consultants can use to identify clients’ needs. Nonetheless, these tools have few shortcomings that would require the use of a strategic approach by consultants.
A.C. 2.1- Evaluate a Range of Methods of Gathering and Sourcing Key Information and Knowledge for Use in Consultancy Interventions
Gathering information in consultancy is vital to consultants and clients as it helps the former obtain essential information to make informed-consultancy interventions, and the latter to monitor the direction of the consultancy. While there are several methods of gathering and sourcing information, consultants can make use of desk research, client interviews, and analysis of client performance data because they are efficient and cost-effective.
One of the methods for gathering information during consultancy is through the use of desk research of the client’s industry. Desk research involves the collation of published research results done by someone else (Housden, 2005). Notably, a consultant can use this method to obtain secondary data about the performance of a given sector.
Desk research is ideal for use because it is cost-effective, and results can be obtained quickly. Notably, the consultant would only need to know where and how to look for secondary data (Housden, 2005). The speed and lower costs for collecting information through desk research make the method suitable for use.
However, desk research has limits; it provides only part of the information sought in projects (Hague, Nicholas & Morgan, 2004). Notably, secondary sources provide specific information about past research that may not be adequate in consultancy. As such, desk research cannot be used solely in practice.
Desk research is most applicable when information about an industry is readily available. For example, the method may be used to obtain data on the profile of sectoral competitors, as such data is published in the company’s annual reports. In the absence of standard data, the technique may not be appliable.
Consultants can also use client interviews to gather data. Interviews are conversations held with a client, whose purpose is to collect data from the interviewee’s perspective (Alshenqeeti, 2014). The method can help obtain first-hand information about a project.
Among the benefits of using interviews is effectiveness in obtaining first-hand information about the client’s industry. Notably, through a structured interview, a consultant can use questions to facilitate the collection of required data for use in consultancy interventions.
Nonetheless, clients’ interviews may be biased. Interviewees may convey incorrect information in attempts to impress the consultant (Hofisi et al., 2014). Furthermore, bias may arise from the poor interpretation of the data by the consultant, especially where a closed interview is applied.
Client interviews are mostly applicable in instances where there exists limited secondary data about a given industry. An example in real-world scenarios is the amount of financial investment made by the client in the industry. Such information may be limited in secondary sources, thus requiring the use of client interviews.
The third method of data collection is the analysis of client performance data. Performance data refers to data captured and stored by a firm relating to its operations (“Definition of Performance Data”, n.d.). The performance data is used for analyzing the performance of the client’s business.
Performance data would be ideal for use because it is convenient and less time-consuming. Notably, the method helps eliminate time and work that may have been required for an internal review of client performance (“Overview: Client Performance”, n.d.). As such, it can facilitate the gathering of information about the performance of the client’s firm within the least time possible.
However, the method may be prone to biasness as data is prepared within the client’s firm. The client may provide inflated value for analysis, which may lead to the collection of erroneous information about the client’s performance.
The client’s performance data is most applicable when information is electronically stored in a firm. For example, some organizations record and rank their performance based on various metrics. The electronically stored data can be used to collect information about the client’s performance.
Growing literature reveals that desk research, client interviews, and analysis of client performance data are suitable methods for gathering primary information for use in consultancy interventions. Nonetheless, literature also suggests that each of these methods has limits.
A.C. 2.2. How to Validate and Filter The Knowledge and Data Gathered
Clients often have fixed budgets, and consultants have a role in ensuring each project is completed efficiently. Therefore, it is important to validate data collected to ensure evidence-based consulting recommendations.
Internal data can be validated through a rigorous crosscheck with available information and benchmarking. For example, if the client interview reveals a certain amount of profits in the financial accounts, the consultant can crosscheck this information with the actual financial data in the client’s firm to validate the data. A benchmark can also validate data that involves human practices, such as employees’ behavior within the firm.
External data can be validated through market research. For instance, if desk research reveals certain trends about consumer behavior, a consultant can conduct actual market research to validate this information. Data validation could enhance the quality of the gathered information for use in consultancy.
In recap, data validation is essential in consultancy as it helps ascertain information gathered through desk research, client interviews, and analysis of clients’ performance. Data validation can be done through market research, crosschecking financial accounts, and benchmarking.
A.C. 2.3 Evaluate Different Tools and Techniques of Data Analysis That A Consultancy May Use
All the data gathered in previous steps may not be meaningful in practice. As such, data analysis must be done to explore the available information and clearly understand the underlying client’s problems.
Among tools that consultants can use in data analysis include spreadsheets, ratio analysis, and statistical analysis. Each of these tools can help identify trends and patterns of the gathered information and foster a proper understanding of the primary issues that a client ought to tackle. Furthermore, data analysis can help identify deviations in firms’ operations that require a prompt response.
In summary, information gathered by consultants may not be useful in the raw form. Data analysis, through the use of spreadsheets, ratio, and statistical analysis, is essential to enhance the meaningfulness of the data.
A.C. 2.4- Assess How a Range of Problem Solving and Decision-Making Tools and Techniques May be Used in Consultancy Interventions
After gathering data, consultants can proceed to implement various interventions. Different decision-making tools can be used in the consulting work plan, including a strategy map and SWOT diagram to enhance the adoption of ideal evidence-based consultancy recommendations.
A strategy map can be used in the planning stage of the consulting work plan. This tool helps consultants describe a consultancy strategy (Armstrong, 2019). Notably, the strategy map can help plan how activities are conducted in a project.
A SWOT diagram can also be utilized in the evaluation phase of the consulting work plan. As noted, a SWOT analysis helps in internal and external analysis of a business environment (Gurel & Tat, 2017). Therefore, consultants can use this tool to evaluate various consulting recommendations made regarding a client’s needs.
Each stage of the consulting work plan entails different activities, such as planning and analysis. Therefore, consultants much choose a decision-making tool that matches each phase appropriately.
A.C. 2.5- Discuss the Role of Creative Thinking in The Analysis of Data and Knowledge
Creative thinking can help offer different possibilities of addressing a pre-established client need by generating ideas that are original and useful (Ritter & Mostert, 2018). The concept takes two forms; brain writing and brainstorming.
Brainwriting and brainstorming are similar creativity techniques. On the one hand, brainstorming is a technique of fostering group creativity where ideas and thoughts are shared among members spontaneously (Ritter & Mostert, 2018). In contrast, brainwriting involves writing and sharing of written ideas within a group (Heslin, 2009). The two creativity techniques can be used to generate options during research by obtaining views from the client and consultant.
In recap, data analysis is essential in obtaining information required in making evidence-based recommendations in consultancy. Nonetheless, the incorporation of creativity is even much better as it fosters the generation of original and diverse options for handling clients’ needs.
A.C. 3.1- Evaluate the Contribution That Performance Management, Benchmarking, Modeling and Business Process Improvement Techniques Make to A Consultancy Intervention
Part of the consultancy job is to implement interventions to help provide solutions to client’s needs. However, this may not be enough to keep clients satisfied. It is equally important to ensure that all possible improvements and opportunities in business processes are explored, an aspect that can be achieved through the use of performance management, benchmarking, modeling, and business process improvement techniques.
Performance management helps provide an objective way of evaluating consultancy intervention. Notably, the technique enables consultants to determine whether their expert process contributes to clear identification of client problems and the provision of viable solutions. The use of performance management is advantageous as it fosters better planning of consultancy intervention. However, the practice can be time-consuming as it entails a broader analysis of consultancy intervention. Notably, while using performance management, each intervention must be rigorously evaluated against the identified client problems and pre-established goals.
As opined by scholars, benchmarking acts as a reference point for various processes and activities (Erdil & Erbiyik, 2019). The exercise helps enhance consultancy interventions by evaluating the proposed solutions against those utilized in other project scenarios. The use of benchmarking in consulting intervention is beneficial as it helps identify niches in the proposed consultancy recommendations and improve on them. However, the tool may also limit independent expert opinion as the consultant tends to rely on other scenarios to structure their interventions. Besides, in the absence of adequate benchmarking information, consultants may not efficiently evaluate their interventions.
Modeling plays a significant role in creating a framework for comparison in consulting intervention. Notably, through modeling, a consultant can identify the focus and ideal client and compare the two to determine the primary client needs. Modeling is advantageous in consultancy intervention as it helps the consultant view client issues from multiple perspectives. However, modeling can also be time and resource-consuming.
Business Process Improvement (BPI) Techniques
Furthermore, BPI techniques can also enhance consulting intervention by helping consultants understand each client’s needs and improve on it. Notably, using BPI techniques, consultants can easily map clients’ needs and evaluate them against the recommendations to ascertain their suitability in solving the identified problems. BPI techniques are beneficial as they help consultants view clients’ needs and recommendations in multiple dimensions. However, these techniques can be time-consuming as each consultancy intervention is evaluated against each client’s need to determine its suitability in a given project.
A.C. 3.2- Evaluate the Benefits and Limitations of a Range of Tools and Techniques Which Could Be Used in Consultancy Intervention
Consultant’s recommendations can either foster the success or failure of a client’s venture. As such, consultants must select consulting tools and techniques that have the potential to promote evidence-based solutions.
|Consulting Tool/ Technique
|GE McKinsey Matrix
|· The tool creates visibility about the client’s problems.
· The tool helps in evaluating internal and external factors surrounding a given business project and a business idea’s attractiveness in the industry (Mokaya et al., 2012).
|· The exercise is costly, and the tool may prove difficult for use among novice consultants.
|Porter Five Forces
|· It provides a broader view of factors affecting an industry, making it easier for consultants to decide whether a client should enter the sector.
|· The tool assumes the existence of a perfect market in every industry, which can lead to the collection of erroneous data and the proposition of inaccurate recommendations.
|· The tool offers an analyst a methodology that provides a path to achieving competitive parity (Fleisher & Bensoussan, 2015). As such, it can help consultants establish the ideal consultancy intervention to deal with clients’ needs.
|· The application of benchmarking is only limited in scenarios where data is available for comparison.
· Also, the use of benchmarking in consultancy intervention only helps the consultant identify areas within a client’s project that requires improvement. Still, the technique does not provide a specific solution for the defined niches.
As can be seen from the table, each consulting tool and technique is subject to both benefits and limitations. As such, consultants have the flexibility to determine what tool to use, depending on available resources and level of competence.
A.C. 3.3 Select the Most Appropriate Analysis Techniques and Tools for An Intervention
While there is a myriad of tools and techniques that can be used in consulting intervention, not all tools are applicable in every type of consulting engagement. As such, consultants need to select techniques that are compatible with each consulting engagement.
One of the tools that consultants can use in a marketing study is benchmarking. This tool is appropriate for analysis in the identified consulting engagement because marketing strategies vary across firms. Therefore, with a benchmark, consultants can identify niches in clients’ marketing strategies relative to those of industrial competitors and suggest appropriate solutions.
Business Process Improvement Project
The most suitable tool for a business process improvement project is a GE McKinsey Matrix. Notably, using this instrument, consultants can evaluate the internal and external factors surrounding the business and their potential impact on the entity’s operations (Kesho, 2015). Subsequently, information gathered using the matrix can be used to develop appropriate measures to enhance the client’s project.
Organizational Design Project
An organizational design project entails the identification and correction of dysfunctional functions of a firm. The most appropriate analysis technique for this type of consulting engagement would be a SWOT analysis. Notably, using the tool, consultants can easily identify weaknesses in an organization and propose solutions to eliminate them.
A.C. 3.4- Evaluate Ways of Leveraging Operating Experience and Knowledge for the Future Benefit of the Practice
Leveraging knowledge in a consultancy firm is vital as it enables consultants and their firm to make maximum use of available expertise for future utilization in consultancy projects. Firms can leverage operating experience through the creation of a knowledge management system, utilization of specific client projects for practice, and conducting internal consulting practice workshops.
A knowledge management system is a tool for storing and sharing knowledge within an organization. Notably, scholars describe the tool as an information and communication technology that can store, disseminate, collaborate, and share knowledge among individuals and organizations as a whole (Igbinovia & Ikenwe, 2017; KMPLus Consulting, 2015). The major strength of a knowledge management system is that it consists of a shared hard drive that consultants can use to share operating knowledge across a consultancy firm to leverage the experience for the future benefit of the practice. However, due to the ease of public access, the information in the system can easily be compromised by people with malicious intentions.
Specific client projects can also be used to leverage operational experience in a consultancy firm. For example, firms can use previous client projects as benchmarks for future consulting intervention. One of the benefits of this technique is that it enables consultants to gain insights into multiple ways of handling consulting engagement. However, access to specific client projects can jeopardize the integrity of the consulting practice, especially for clients who wish to have their projects remain private.
Alternatively, firms can leverage knowledge through the establishment of internal consulting practice workshops. As observed by scholars, “attending a workshop can be an interesting mode of learning from other professionals in the same professional field, either by listening to the lectures of experts or by extensive networking with peers participating in the same workshop” (Grip & Pleijers, 2019, p.362). By organizing internal consulting practice workshops, firms can provide an opportunity for their consultants to gain more knowledge about the practice through sharing ideas with their peers. One of the primary strengths of internal consulting practice is efficiency in leveraging operational experience and expertise within a large group of people. However, Fatumo et al. (2014), opine that running workshops is quite challenging due to the numerous resources required in planning, which may not be available in a start-up consultancy business.
In summary, leveraging operating experience and knowledge in a consultancy firm is essential for the future benefit of the practice. Firms can leverage operating knowledge through the creation of knowledge management systems, use of specific client projects, and the establishment of internal consultancy workshops.
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