What qualifies a consulting firm to carry out development projects?

This may sound rhetorical, but it is sincere. I was recently thinking about the elaborate schemes the EU (and other donors) have for selecting who carries out their projects.

eye-exam.JPG Basically, the prequalification phase consists of consulting firms preparing descriptions of completed projects and some financial data. These are mechanically assessed (how many times does a particular buzz word appear in the project description?) and the company is either put on the short list or rejected. During the tendering phase, the company is supposed to comment on the TOR (demonstrating knowledge and competence in the area of the project), provide a more or less detailed approach to carrying out the project and propose CVs of experts who have committed to carry out the work as planned if they are selected.

It all sounds logical.

In practice, project descriptions are manipulated to fit the requirements of the new project, sometimes significantly. All too often, either an outside expert or a specialized business development department with little contact to the project implementers prepares the proposal. This poses the risk that the incoming team is not fully in agreement with the approach written on paper, even if some parts are prepared by the Team Leader.

The business of doctoring curricula vitae is as old as the consulting industry itself.  Despite the attempts of the EU to control this practice (requiring employers’ letters confirming the assignments listed in the CV, which poses its own challenges), I have seen large numbers of CVs in which – due to the creative presentation of the experience – the areas of expertise were radically transformed. computer-lady.JPG

So in effect, this produces a large number of companies carrying out creative writing, referring to people they barely know, with whom they may or may not have worked, vying for projects, the substance of which they may or may not know anything about.

Then in the implementation phase, the problem is compounded. Most large consulting companies delegate much of the project coordination work to young, relatively inexperienced staff, partially due to the high volume of administrative and logistical support required. And partly for the reason that, due to competition, the margins achieved are too small to pay more senior staff to support the project unless they have paid days to do so.

The question I would raise is: how does any of this make a consulting company qualified to carry out development projects? They may be good at writing proposals, at charging competitive prices, at selecting freelance experts to carry out the projects, but how much remains in the company itself?

I have painted a very grim picture, which is certainly unfair to a number of committed and qualified companies and individuals.  On the other hand, everyone who has been involved in this business knows what I am talking about.

So what can be done? I believe a rethink of the approach to hiring expertise and implementing projects is necessary, and will comment on this in future blogs.

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