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 approach gives the opportunity to use experts for different parts of a study.
My recollection is that years ago larger consulting firms would offer to do an entire study in-house. That now seems to have changed and the multi-company approach seems to be the norm.
This is partly being driven by the clients who wish to work with consultants they are familiar with and have existing relationships. It
In some instances, larger firms may still make the argument they can take on all of the project scope themselves. However reflect on such offers, the danger being a less qualified team seconded from offices that are not busy. Possibly you won’t get the best team; you get who is available.
In many joint company studies, often few of the team members will have ever worked together before. It may be 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 when working with different offices of the same firm, things may not go as planned. Some of those in-house teams may not have previously worked together.
The Study Manager is Key
To have a successful study team, in my experience the two key factors are;
The competency of the Study Manager;
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 have another blog discussing the Study Manager role). A single team member delaying their deliverables will delay others on the team.
Some consulting firms have multiple client projects underway at the same time. Unexpected delays in one study may cause them to shift personnel onto other clients. Unfortunately sometimes it is difficult to bring the team back together on your project at a moment’s notice.
The Study Manager must ensure that everyone understands what their deliverables are. Generally this is done using a “Responsibility Matrix”, but these can sometimes be too general.
Where cost estimation is involved, the Responsibility Matrix should be supported by a Work Breakdown Structure (“WBS”) assigning the costing responsibilities. Given that the 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 have another blog on the subject of WBS ).
Team communication is vital and there are different ways to do it. 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 too much technical detail versus not enough detail.
On some studies I have seen a weekly call restricted to one-hour long and then everyone flees until next week’s call. At the end of these conference calls, one might have an uneasy 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.