Ten challenges in management consulting project management

Management Consulting and its area of function
Management Consulting Universe

In the past three to four decades, management consulting as a profession has gained momentum and some of the primary reasons for the growth has been, access to expert knowledge and flexibility of getting solution to a problem without adding human resource.

Management consulting is a dynamic knowledge driven industry and the outlines of the industry is changing very fast based on development of technological solutions.

Though to an outsider, it may look to be a highly remunerative,  only a consultant in the management consulting industry will know the challenges.  

The challenges commonly noticed are related to, team coordination /composition,  scope creeping, ethics in project, ego in project, change in management etc.

A detailed narration is covered below-

  1. The client’s lack of understanding of the management consulting methods requiring frequent dispute

In my experience I have many times faced situations when the client team does not understand the consultant’s role and as a result much time is wasted in the process. In some complicated cases there may be multiple stakeholders either from within or outside.

2. Sales and delivery or execution team acting independently with their own agenda resulting

A big source of dispute in a management consultancy organisation sometimes becomes the lack of coordination between sales and delivery time. There could be varied reasons and some of the reasons are,

I. Both the teams work independently with different contradicting agendas. While the sales team may be willing to accept an assignment in order to achieve targets and or getting some additional earning by way of incentive, the delivery team most often suffer due to such improper decisions. However, in lot many consulting  organisations, the responsibility of getting business and executing them is assigned on the same team.

Ii. The sales team is not suitably experienced to understand the execution criticalities and thus tend to make wrong deal

3. Scope creeping resulting into additional work without pay

Scope creeping is related to deviation from the accepted scope resulting in additional efforts. This is a terrible issue that may happen in any management consulting assignment and becomes the responsibility of the project manager to resolve.

Imagine a case where during negotiation the client agrees on a scope and based in the agreed scope the fee is arrived at. Now the client management negotiates heavily and you accept a hefty discount in anticipation of future business – a question of probability.  After all this, the client team increases your scope without accepting fee increase! And what will be the fate of the project? Financial loss, potential change in the team composition and skill set requirement, face off with the client etc.

Such a conflicting situation may drastically increase in cases involving multi party dealings.

Now what is the solution? The simple solutions are,

I. Define the scope and methodology in as clear term as possible and get it accepted by all the parties

Il. Make it sure to the client that the fee is based on the accepted scope and it will change is the scope challenges. In case additional fee is not acceptable to the client/s, the scope will remain unchanged.

Iii. Prepare an exclusion list and get it accepted by the client

4. Venturing into areas where the consultant do not have any experience

Normally an experienced consultancy or consultant is aware of the limitations. However, in certain cases the sales organisation may accept a scope which is not in core domain.

For example, a consultancy without any experience in road sector accepts to undertake a traffic modelling- without a subconsultant. Or a financial consultancy firm accepts undertaking a fixed asset valuation exercise-again without a subconsultant.

If these additional scope acceptances are based on growth strategies, I presume that it will be suitably strategize. Otherwise, it can have harmful effect on the organisation.

5. Looking for unwanted information and of higher depth that is not relevant for the assignment

A peculiar problem many times noted is over starting the need for documents or information. It can sometimes be more harmful than understating the document/ information requirement, because while understating may tend to cause gap in the assessment, due to collection of unwanted documents, certain issues may appear

I. The project team may sit with excess data requiring excess time in data analysis. Any such additional time is directly proportional to cost and timeline

Ii. The client may expect analysis of such data, which the consultant completely overlook.

Iii. Excess data also cause added data security issue.

6. Change in team composition

Typically for a long duration project, change in the team member primarily due to attrition is common. Additionally in the project lifecycle many times it is found that person with a specific skill set may be required in another project- where it is a pressing requirement. I have seen projects underperforming due to such resource issues.

Managing such issues and ensuring continued quality output will surely satisfy a client. A demanding client may sometimes reject changes in a midway. However, if the replacement can be done scientifically with a proper skill set and experience matching, client satisfaction can be ensured.

7. The consultants working for vested interests with unethical behaviour

This is slightly tricky as the definition of ethical behaviour may mean differently to different people – though it is not as difficult to understand. Consider the following cases,

I. A consultant ask his client to make a travel arrangement for his family

Ii. The consultant is given a ceremonious welcome and 5 star + treatment, which the consultant is not normally entitled to.

Iii. The client sends a costly gift to the consultant

Iv. The consultant accepts unhealthy night life from the client.

In all such cases, the professional values are potentially tend to be compromised, either immediately or in due course.

For a project to understand such issues becomes difficult. However, if alert and maintains regular touch with the client, it is not so difficult either.

8. The consultant not up to date in his knowledge

Any knowledge industry is dynamic and consultancy is no exception. A client may accept the consultant’s view if (i) is scientifically driven and (ii) a suitable example can be set.

Hence, a consultant have to be up to date with his knowledge and an effective project manager should encourage such initiatives of his team.

9. Client and consultant on ego clash

Very rare, but it happens. The client may think that they are supreme because they have appointed the consultant, while the consultant may feel that the client’s behaviour is unacceptable.

After all, the projects are driven by human being and emotional issues can happen any time. A project manager should keep his temperament cool and try to look at issues objectively. It is practical to manager ego related issues through discussion. Even sometimes shunting out such employees in other areas may be beneficial for long term relation.

10. Change in Management or change in the priorities of the client

There was one case in the African continent, where after the team of consultants reached the client office, it was found that management control was taken over by the opponents.

The result, the client cancelled the order and even demanded refund.

A good project manager in such case should first look at ‘health, safety and security ‘ of the consultant and decide on an action plan.

Lord’s Abode Kedarnath

Kedarnath – the lord’s abode – is located in the high altitudes of the Himalayas. The physical hardships that a person may need to pass through for visiting the higher reaches of Himalayas is of common knowledge. You may not only need to fight the biting cold and physical exhaustion emanated out of long travel or trek, you may find issues like high altitude sickness (breathlessness, palpitation), dry skin, water/ food borne ailments etc.

Kedarnath Temple Entrance
Kedarnath Temple Side View

While they require tedious journeys, these places are exquisite with green cover, flashing ribbon like brooks, charming valleys, wild flowers and friendly people.

Nestled amidst the higher regions of Kumayun Himalay, there remain some of the most revered pilgrimages for Hindus which include Kedarnath. Kedarnath is one among these sacred places and it is one among the twelve Jyotirlings of Lord Siva. Due to the remote inhospitable terrain, it remains open for only 5 months in a year- from end of April to October. In winter, it becomes severely cold and during monsoon, landslide is common.

Since Kedarnath is situated at an altitude of 3553 mtrs above sea level, it needs good planning. Especially heavy woollen clothing / inners, rain coat, torch, cold creams should form a part of your backpack. In addition, one should consult a doctor and carry recommended medicines- obviously those related to fever, cold, body pain, abdominal disorder should be a must. I have seen people using camphor wrapped inside kerchief and smell them in case of breathlessness feeling.

The most preferred route for visiting Kedarnath is via Haridwar, a very nice place where you may find the pristine beauty of the Ganges. There are various options available for going to Kedarnath from Haridwar. You may get local buses, which will take you up to Gaurikund. Though this is very economical means, you may face issues related to timing and getting a seat in the bus. There are some tour operators who organise bus and shared SUV packages from Haridwar, which normally cover Badrinath also. From Gaurikund to Kedarnath, you have to trek or go on a pony or by a helicopter. The route from Gaurikund to Kedarnath is very thin with stone blocks loosely placed in most of the stretches. In case you are riding a pony, you may find that the pony is dangerously going close to the edge repeatedly, throwing chill through your spine. You may also find that the hoof is skidding occasionally. If you trek, be aware that the path at different locations becomes slippery due to intermittent rain. The route is studded with arrangements for resting at different places. Rambara is located midway.

You will find some small hotels once you reach Kedarnath valley.  I travelled during the starting of the season i.e., sometimes in the beginning of May 2010 and found the place extremely cold. Over and above while travelling we missed carrying raincoat – primarily out of ignorance – and as a result all the family members were drenched in sporadic shower that set off after leaving Rambara . The flimsy raincoat that we purchased from Rambara could not sustain the wear and tear of a pony ride. Moreover, one of our family members felt suffocation related to high altitude. This prompted us to decide on return on the same day and we started sometimes in the evening.

In addition to the Hindu pilgrims, I saw some foreigners taking all the pain to go uphill to Kedarnath. In an informal chat, they told that it is their quest that has induced them to taken up such a hardship and that they are happy to be at Kedarnath to witness the vibes of spirituality and bounty of nature.

While the severe cloudburst inflicted havoc in Kedarnath in June 2013 and I was watching the devastation from my home in Chennai, I could very well relate the atrocities of local population as well as the tourists. In most of the places there is either no alternate route or an un-accessible alternate route. How the temple structure remained unhurt under such large scale devastation is an enigma.

Overall the travel to Kedarnath remained one of the most enjoyed travels that I have made so far and I am sure that anyone will have the same feeling.

Kedarnath to Badrinath

In my last post, I had covered Kedarnath, which is undisputedly one of the most revered spot and is the abode of Lord Siva. This post captures Badrinath, which is close to Kedarnath and normally devotees prefer to combine visiting both the places together.

Badrinath is for Badri Bhagawan (God) and I will not attempt capturing any of the mythological detailing about Badrinath.  An interested reader will get tons of material online on this subject.

For the purpose of understanding of the geographic positioning of the two locations I have inserted a location map taken from Google maps. In fact Google map always comes very handy and I use it uninterrupted during my travels, especially when a driver appears to be new with the locality. However, one caution about Google Maps is that, while it gives accurate idea about distance, information about travel time often erroneous.  The travel time from Gaurikund to Kedarnath is no way less than 10 hours and I remember that it took more than 12 hours when I visited Badrinath.

Though we started early in the day – following the suggestions of our driver – the distance which we were supposed to cover in seven hours, took more than ten hours and yet we were fall short of reaching our destination.

The previous day we spent on the bed sleeping and even that seemed insufficient to cover the fatigue that we suffered the day before during our trek to Kedarnath.

 

This part of the Himalayan region appeared to me different from the other regions buy way of their appearance and geological structure. The shape of the ranges spread all over the route from Gaurikund seems to be point blank with very sharp edges and rocky. The pattern of natural foliage is also different and scanty with increase in altitude.

Our journey had to be halted at Joshimath – which is about 45 km ahead of Badrinath – because of heavy traffic jam. It was also late in the evening. Fortunately we could arrange a room in a road-side motel. Though the facilities and apparent quality was no way comparable with the rate they charged, it was our compulsion to have a roof before it became too cold outside. Already some of our team members were trembling out of cold.

The driver left us in the hotel and moved ahead in search of a suitable parking place and to our surprise we realised that our luggage packed with woollen clothing was atop the vehicle. Helplessly, I had to walk in the dark night in search of our vehicle. The mobile networks except BSNL in this region seldom work.

That night, I had to travel about two kilometres and carry two of my hand bags and return back the same hilly road dotted with parked vehicles in one or the other side and under the threat of finding a leopard on the way.

Badrinath is at an altitude of 3,133 meters above sea level and is in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand state.  Unlike Kedarnath, where you need to trek about 14 km to reach the revered temple, Badrinath temple can be reached by motorable road. There are several small and medium hotels in Badrinath and as a result getting a room may not be difficult – unless it is the starting of the season. If you have a cab with you, you may even stay slightly away from the main areas- in case you do not find an accommodation.

The presence of river Alaknanda ( Rishi Ganga ) beside and the snow capped peak of Neelkhant hill makes the place marvellous. The Alkapuri glacier – which is the source of Alakananda River- is located at a distance of 16 KM from Badrinath.

Besides Badrinath temple, there are some other important tourist places in and around Badrinath. They are,

  • Snow Capped Nara Parbat (Nara Hill)

    Tapta Kund- a hot water spring, in which the devotees take a dip before going for Badri bhagawan darshan

  • Mana village- the village within Indian territory
  • Rishi Vyas Gupha ( caves )
  • Bheem Pul, which is said to be constructed by Bheem in river Saraswati river and crossing this you will reach Mana Village, which is the last village within Indian territory.  This village is about 8 Km from Badrinath.

Undoubtedly, travel to Badrinath was one of the most memorable trips that I have ever made.

Kashmir in winter – an unforgettable experience

Brief narration

For a considerably long time I have been dreaming of visiting Kashmir. To be precise – in the summer of 2005 – we had ventured into a trip to Vaishnodevi, followed by an unsuccessful attempt of visiting Srinagar. This travel had to be aborted from Patnitop, as some of my co-travelers were jittery about the wide installation of military on the way and an unknown fear. Ultimately the story line of the acclaimed Mani Ratnam movie – Roja – was alive yet in our memory.

When the situation was better in 2012, we planned a visit to the valley in the winter that year. Having memory of the previous failed attempt alive, we were slightly skeptical and in fact were nurturing ‘plan B’ simultaneously. As a principle, I always plan my tour instead of trusting on some or the other travel agents. Though this takes lot of my time in undertaking research, booking tickets, arranging accommodation, it is worth the type of energy that I get in return.

For people living in places where winter is non-existent – planning a visit to the Himalayan terrain during winter is a difficult decision, which we took as a calculated risk. We first flew to Delhi and traveled by train to Jammu Tawi from where we traveled to Katra (about 48 Km from Jammu) – the starting point for Vaishno Devi darshan. Though there are several trains between Delhi & Jammu, the travel tickets should be booked much in advance – ideally 3 months. The reader may check ticket availability from Indian Railway site (http://www.indianrail.gov.in/) for the required travel dates.

Our travel to Kashmir started on the fourth day of reaching Katra. These few days were required for trekking to Vaishno Devi shrine and rejuvenating after a painful trek.

For the sake of adventure, we planned to travel from Jammu by road and booked a cab @ Jammu.  The idea behind traveling by road was two pronged. Since we were in the beginning of the journey and had ample time left – even if we are stuck up in the way due to bad weather or snowfall, the lost time can be compensated somewhere. And the second idea was not to miss the marvelous countryside that lays visible on the way.

We first reached Pahalgam crossing Patnitop en-route. The road journey was tedious and it continued as if it will not end ever. On the way the driver was explaining several locations and stories behind their names. It was around ten in the night, when our vehicle started dancing for a few seconds. Alarmed, we inquired and realized that there was black ice formation on the road, which the driver could not notice.  It was a frightening incident and even the driver was visibly nervous. After some time he told us that this area is known as ‘Khooni Nala’ – so called due to the sheer number of accidents happened in this area in the past. Though it was a dark night, we could visualize this area under the very dim light reflected from our vehicle. In the right side of the road it appeared to be the marks of dried water way – that becomes live in monsoon and in the other side it was totally dark – an indication of a deep gorge.

We reached Pahalgam at midnight. When on the next day we got up – it was an unbelievable panorama outside with snow everywhere – making it a heavenly feeling.

Pahalgam on the banks of Lidder River is a small town in Ananthnag district situated at an altitude of 7200 feet.  It is also the base camp for Amarnath Yatra.

The town is picture perfect with mountains dotted around. Kolhoi Glacier – a hanging glacier –and Betab Valley are important tourist destinations. There are a couple of Punjabi restaurants that offer delicious food. In fact there is a very high Punjabi population in Pahalgam and as known culturally the people are very helpful.

From Pahalgam we traveled to Srinagar enjoying every moment of the road journey and reached at night. Centering Srinagar, we visited Gulmarg and Sonmarg. These glaciers are marvelous and overcrowded with everyone attempting some or other types of snow games like – skiing, skating, sledge cart.

Our eight day Kashmir tour ended so quickly that we felt as if we should have some more days available with us. It was not only the natural beauty of the country side, the hospitality of the locals are unparalel – in stark contrast with the harsh cold winter weather around – and may not be seen in any of the big cities.

While return we opted flight from Srinagar and were spellbound by the aerial view of the snow capped mountains. Now I feel as if my travel is incomplete without another trip to Kashmir in  Spring season – when the hills and valleys flashes up with countless  rainbow colors – green, red, yellow, pink, white and what not.

A typical itinerary: Delhi – Vaishno Devi – Pahelgam- Srinagar – Delhi

  • Day 1: Delhi to Jammu by night train,
  • Day 2: Reaching Jammu in the morning and travel to Katra by road. Local bus and taxi options are available. It will take about an hour’s journey. Start trekking in the evening for Vaishno Devi or may hire a pony. Helicopter option is also available – needs booking in advance. After Vaishno Devi, a devotee may also trek to Bhairavnath temple at a higher altitude.
  • Day 3: Climbing down from the Vaishno Devi by noon.
  • Day 4: Resting in Hotel.
  • Day 5: Hire a cab and start in the morning and travel to Pahalgam – reaching in the night.
  • Day 6: Pahalgam – local sightseeing.
  • Day 7: Start after lunch and head towards Srinagar reaching in the night.
  • Day 8: Plan a visit to Sonmarg and come back by night. The same road will lead you to Kargil and if somebody wants may consider two more days for visiting Kargil.
  • Day 9: Travel to Gulmarg and return to Srinagar.
  • Day 10: Srinagar local sightseeing – Dal Lake, Shankaracharya Temple, Nishat Bag, Botanical Garden, Shalimar bagh.
  • Day 11: Srinagar local sightseeing – Kheer Bhawani temple, Hazratbal shrine, Hari Parbat,
  • Day 12: Return to Delhi by flight.