Consulting Red Flags: Ten tips from the NBA to help a customer of consulting services secure a winning consulting arrangement

The NBA season is finally mercifully officially over although as a Warriors fan, it was over long ago. Congratulations to the Miami Heat on winning the championship.

I couldn’t help but think of the many parallels between the operation that is the NBA and how companies out there are engaging consultants. Here’s 10 observations.

1. Although there is some clustering, the NBA All-Star teams were stocked with players from 20 or so teams. Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant all play for different teams. If a consultancy puts forward its team as the all-league all-star team, with no deficiencies whatsoever, that is a red flag. All teams have them. Both sides should understand this and strive for a best fit, given the realities that talent gets spread around naturally.

2. Consulting teams need a winning formula. Do they know what it is? Will that work in your environment? For the Heat, it was LeBron and Wade. For the Lakers, its Kobe, Bynum and a solid supporting cast. For the Magic, it was Howard and defense first. Oklahoma City went deeper with a solid rotation. Other teams put all shooters on the floor or focus on defense.

3. I did not notice an NBA team, in an effort to save money, put the cheapest, most inexperienced player they could find on the court this season. Heck, there are people who would pay for the glory of playing. No, I think every team tried their best to win as many games as possible. If your consulting team consists of 3 solid players that you are presented with, with the rest to be named later, make sure they are not filling it out with the cheapest players they can find. Of course, that is misguided on their part as well, but sometimes you need to save the consultancies from doing the wrong thing for both of you.

4. Scores and game clocks are not kept in the referee’s head. The referee does not suddenly blow the whistle and say “game over, Suns win 104-99, goodbye.” The time and the score are kept on large scoreboards for all to see throughout the game. Do you have a scoreboard? Does your consultancy? It is important to know how much progress is being made throughout the game.

5. Beyond the starting 5, NBA benches are filled with world-class athletes, many of whom get as much or more playing time as starters. What is your consultancy’s bench? I’m not referring, necessarily, to their employees not on billing, but just what is their contingency plan in case of injury, sudden and unexpected poor performance or if a player were to leave in the middle of the game? Is the consultancy plugged into the culture of the discipline they are engaged in? Do they have a warm network? Do they scout?

6. NBA teams come to expect certain things from the places they play – things like fans, referees, locker rooms, food, transportation, hoops, lights, a marked court and basketballs to play with. What is your consulting team expecting from you? Software? Hardware? Requirements? Access to certain individuals? Physical space? The ability to network their laptops? It would be a drag to see the game try to start without a basketball or to have the lights go out in the 3rd quarter. Clear up expectations ahead of time with your consultancy.

7. When the Pistons show up to the American Airlines Arena in Miami, they expect the Heat to come out of the dressing room to play against. Imagine their surprise should the Warriors come out! Or they have to play against 6 players on the court. Now, they have game-planned for one team (5 players at a time) and get to play an entirely different team. This bit of surprise will not help the Pistons be successful that night. Is there information the consultancy is not asking for that they should be in order to know what they are up against?

8. Sure, playing basketball is fun. However, it’s also work. Players dive after loose balls, flying into the stands if necessary, and are expected to go all out with little consequence to their body. They need to be skilled at avoiding injury, but cannot play overly concerned with it. There are many moments in a consulting project where it’s less fun and more work. Are you hiring a consultancy that is prepared for the potential hard work ahead?

9. NBA teams shoot about 80 field goals per game, hitting less than half. Actually, only a handful of players in the league hit over 50 percent of their field goals. However, you can’t score or win if you don’t shoot. The Harlem Globetrotters are entertaining when they go into their circle and keep passing the ball, but you don’t see that in a real game. Is your consultancy willing to shoot, and are you willing to let them, even though half of the shots aren’t going in, or is the consultancy interested in making entertaining passes, perhaps back to you?

10. Finally, experience counts. At the NBA draft recently, I was reminded by the announcers that some of the second round picks would not even make the NBA. Only 60 players are drafted each year, all with eye-popping highlights from college and European leagues, and some won’t make it?! That’s how tough it is. Is your consultancy getting tough about their talent?

Category: Information Strategy, Product Ideas, Sustainable Development
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