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 generalized team from a single firm. My recollection is that many years ago large consulting firms would offer to do the entire study in-house, however that has changed and the multi-company approach seems to be the norm. This is partly being driven by the clients who wish to maintain certain 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 busy. Possibly you won’t get the best team; you may simply get who is available.
In many joint 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 when using different offices of the same firm, things may not go as planned. Even those teams may not have worked together before.
To have a successful study team, in my experience the two key factors 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 have another article on the Study Manager role). A single team member delaying their deliverables can then delay others on the team. Some consultants have multiple projects underway at the same time. Unexpected delays in one study may cause them shift onto their other study and it sometimes is difficult to bring the team back onto your 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. 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 have another article 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 escapes 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.