7. Multi-Company Engineering Studies Can Work Well…or Not
Date: May 4, 2015Author: Ken Kuchling
Most, if not all, advanced studies these days rely on engineering teams comprised of participants from different consulting firms or from different regional offices of the same company. This provides the opportunity to use specific expert consultants for different parts of the study, rather than simply pulling in a generalised team from a single firm. My recollection is that many years ago large consultants would try to do the whole job in-house but that has changed and the multi-company approach seems to be the norm. This is partly being driven by the clients who wish to use specific consultants that they are familiar with and may have existing relationships.
In some instances, larger firms will still make the argument they can take on more of the project scope themselves. However be careful in such offers because one can end up with less qualified teams seconded from their offices that are not very busy. Possibly you won’t get the best; you may simply get who is available.
In many multi-company studies, few of the team members will have ever worked together before and so it’s a team building exercise right from the start. I have had both good and bad experiences with these types of engineering teams. Some of them work very well while others floundered. Even if using different offices of the same company, things may not go as planned since even those people may not have worked together before.
To have a successful study team, two key factors in my experience are; (1) the competency of the Study Manager; (2) the amount (and style) of team communication.
The Study Manager is vital to keeping everyone working on the same page and making sure timelines are met. (I will have a future posting on the Study Manager topic). A single team member delaying their own deliverables can then delay others on the team. Some consultants have other projects underway and unexpected delays in one study may cause them shift onto their other study and then it sometimes is difficult to bring them back onto this project at a moment’s notice.
The Study Manager must also ensure that everyone understands what their deliverables are. Generally this is done using a “Responsibility Matrix”, but these can sometimes be too general in nature. Where cost estimation is involved, the Responsibility Matrix should be supported by a Work Breakdown Structure (“WBS”) where the costing responsibilities are assigned. Given that contentious parts of many studies are the capital and operating cost estimates, I personally view the WBS equally as important as the Responsibility Matrix. (I will have a future posting on the WBS topic).
Team communication is vital and there are different ways to do this. Weekly or bi-weekly conference calls work well but these need to be carefully managed. With a large team on a conference call, there is a fine line between getting into too much technical detail on certain topics versus not enough detail or members won’t understand the nuances of the project. On some studies I have seen a weekly call restricted to one-hour long and then everyone runs off until next week’s call. At the end of such conference calls, one has a feeling of it being incomplete. Perhaps people were not clear on something but hesitated to ask become the one-hour time is up. In such cases it is important for the relevant parties to continue on or have a separate call. Make it apparent to everyone that they should speak up if something is not clear to them, regardless of the time remaining.
My bottom line is that multi-company teams will work fine as long as the Study Manager is capable of doing his job in keeping the team organized. It is not a simple task, not everyone can do it really well, but everyone (client and the other consultants) appreciate working under a good study manager.