Defining the brand and value of your internal consulting team – part 1

I am just moving back into consulting after a 2 year gig as a CTO. So people are already asking me about the brand, services and focus of my consulting company. I guess it is time to start creating my value proposition, visual language and case studies so that I can get back into marketing. Instead I am spending a little time with my wife and daughter and planning to do all that thinking in the lead up to Christmas, when things are usually a little slow in Australia.

But what about internal consulting teams? They sometimes compete with me for work and I even get asked to do things that someone in-house would do much better than an external consultant like me. So why do people often go outside for services that they can obtain in-house?

The reason might be politics, resourcing shortages or even that the company just wants an external perspective, but often it is because nobody really understands what the internal teams have to offer.

So why do external teams like mine have a clear value proposition, while internal teams often don’t? I believe that it is probably because the internal teams are too busy with other things to think about their internal brand and value proposition. But it does not take that long to build a picture of the team and it is often worthwhile, not just from a “marketing” point of view but also as a way of assessing and driving the internal engagement in the team.

With that in mind I thought I would draft some rough notes on how to build your service model (also called the value proposition, service catalogue, engagement brochure or engagement model). This is not necessarily the best practice approach in the world but it should be simple and effective enough to position the team well for more work.

A hypothetical team

Let’s assume that there is an internal business analyst pool. They have about 15 people in the team and also bring in contractors. They charge for their services and people often complain that they are too expensive. They are not mandated for work but there is a general expectation that they will be used by project managers in the company.

The team is called the “project BA pool” or PBA and is focussed on putting BA’s into projects. Unfortunately some project managers bring in their own contractors and there are some other teams that sometimes put “BA” type people onto projects. People in the team are starting to ask the manager if they should just become contractors and find their own work and the manager is telling them to stick with the team as there will be great opportunities ahead.

A starting point

Let’s start with the purpose or “value proposition”. Why does the team exist?

Our team’s manager (Sophie) checks her performance agreement and finds that she has some KPI’s. The relevant ones seem to be:

  • “Delivering and championing appropriate requirements and analysis templates, standards and quality across projects in the Division”; and
  • “Supporting the project management community by ensuring the PBA team is the team of choice for sourcing both permanent and contract BA’s on projects in the Division”.

Hmm .. not too much use unfortunately. Our poor manager has no mandate to drive quality in projects and needs to convince PM’s to use her BA’s on rather than hiring their own.

some BA team

Sophie asks her boss what he thinks and finds that he is busy on other endeavours. He recommends that she start “using her influence” and that she start getting her team to standardise their templates for requirements so that PM’s start to see the value in consistent approaches.

Next, Sophie checks in with the project managers currently use her team. She asks them why they choose her BA’s and finds that most of her customers actually want a particular BA, who they have already worked with, and don’t really care which team that BA is in. She checks with sponsors and finds that they are pretty keen on standard templates and approaches and want to see internal people being used on projects “as long as they are of a high enough quality”. When pressed the sponsors admit that they usually just let the PM decide who to use.

Why use the BA team

Consolidating the official purpose of the team

Sophie realises that her team is far from “the team of choice” for resourcing and also far from being the awesome political powerhouse that will drive “standards and quality” across projects in the division. She can stop there and keep the team going as per normal, but, being a business analyst, she has the tools to do a little better. She interviews her boss and asks him what his goals are and how the team can help him achieve his key targets, but sadly her team is not really core to his success.

Should Sophie actually continue? Maybe the team are not really adding value and the company would do better to disband them (a valid choice and one that happens to BA teams quite often). But let’s assume that Sophie decides to flush out and deliver on the value she knows is there. She asks some more questions of her boss and her 2 team leaders (each of whom manage 7-8 business analysts). She asks each of them the same questions and then asks her team leaders to ask the same questions of others in the team:

  • What sort of work does the team currently do?
  • If we were to add more value as BA’s, then what work should we really be doing?
  • What are the largest constraints that currently stop the team from adding even more value?
    • What would happen if we could remove those constraints?
    • Why do these constraints exist?
  • What is the single greatest opportunity that the team is not currently making the most of?
    • What would have to happen for us to realise that opportunity?
  • If you ran the team, what would you do now? What would you want the team to look like in 12 months?

Sophie should really ask the project managers and project sponsors the same questions, but she already got some of the answers when she spoke to them, so she does not go back to them just yet.

A workshop with the team leaders

Sophie now has a workshop with her leadership team. She could invite more of the crew but for expediency, she just sits down with her two team leads for now.

The agenda is simple:

  • Define our purpose and see how well aligned we are with it.
  • Look at our existing services and see if they are really aligned to what we say we do.
  • Assess whether we have the right people in the team, with the right skills and aspirations. Sophie does not want to sack anyone, but she needs to be able to provide an answer to the people in the team who are asking “should we just be contractors”? This is really the value proposition to the members of the team and Sophie hopes that she can create some improved internal development opportunities if the team are clear on what they really can provide.

Value prop for team

So here is what they come up with:

  • The PPA provide business analyst services to projects in the Division, so that those projects are clear on where to focus their efforts in meeting the needs of the business. Without us they would need to bring in their own business analysts.
  • Our stakeholders choose to use our team because of our extensive company knowledge, our existing relationships with key stakeholders within the Division and our proven capability in requirements elicitation and management. They also choose us because they know and trust specific members of the team who have proven themselves in the past.
  • We are similar to the IT business analyst team but different because they only focus on technical solutions while we also analyse the process and training implications of projects.
  • We are similar to external contractors in that we are good at requirements but we are different because we are more familiar with the company’s goals, issues, history and stakeholders.

This is OK, but Sophie thinks they are being a little optimistic in the reasons that people use them, so she will have to validate that. She also thinks that the phrase “business analyst services” is a bit dumb. The generally place business analysts on projects, rather than agreeing on any particular services and while she and her team leaders know what “business analyst services” means, the term might mean different things to different stakeholders.

Sophie does one more thing before she disbands the meeting, she gets the team leaders to define “Business analyst services”.

  • To us, “Business analyst services” means:
    • Gathering and documenting requirements;
    • Analysing those requirements using a number of approaches, including swim lane process models, value stream maps, story boarding and use cases; and
    • Facilitating the prioritisation of requirements with stakeholders; and
    • Working with IT teams, outsource partners and delivery teams to specify what needs to be done in order to meet those requirements.
  • We could explain this to the average person in the street by saying that we work with the business to clarify what they need from the project and then document this for the people on the project to use in designing and delivering a solution.

They agree that their new purpose (value proposition) is:

“We clarify what the business stakeholders need from a project so that the project team know what to deliver. Project managers use our crew because we have the right contacts in the business, a deep understanding of the history, drivers and needs of the business and solid experience in eliciting and managing requirements”.

It may still need work, but it is a lot more than some of the others teams have to define what they do.

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One thought on “Defining the brand and value of your internal consulting team – part 1

  1. Pingback: Defining the value of your internal consulting team part 2 – your services | James King

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