Operations Management Consultants vs Internal Improvement Teams: What’s the Difference?
If your company is looking for process improvements, greater efficiency, operations upgrades and generally a greasing of the gears in order to function at a higher level, that’s great! Now the question becomes: Do you hire an operations management consulting firm or rely on your internal improvement team?
Here’s a look at both options:
Internal improvement teams
What are internal improvement teams, exactly? In general, they’re full-time employees within an organization, usually (but not always) within the HR function. They act as advisors, change agents, process improvement experts, coaches or trainers. But it doesn’t have to be as formal as having a dedicated “internal consultant team.” Oftentimes, companies looking to improve processes pull together a team of people from different departments within the organization to tackle a problem or challenge that is impeding productivity.
Some other aspects, including pros and cons, of internal teams:
Cost. On the surface, using an internal team may seem cheaper than hiring an outside firm because the company is not paying an outside consulting fee. But figuring in salaries, benefits and all of the other expenses involved with full-time employees that are dedicated to process improvement, those savings can dry up. Also, if you’re using an internal team made up of people from different departments, there is the issue of time away from their usual job functions and the loss of productivity that can result from that.
Company knowledge. Internal people have an immediate understanding of the organization. No learning curve needed. There’s already a deep knowledge of the culture, the processes and the “unspoken rules.”
Accountability. Some external consultants “fix it and forget it.” In other words, they swoop in, offer recommendations for change and swoop out, leaving the company to implement the changes and deal with what comes next. (Note: We do NOT do that at USC Consulting Group) Internal people are there, onsite, through it all, and after it all.
Internal politics. This is one of the big “cons” of using an internal team. In many workplaces, you’ve got internal politics and drama running through everything. Who takes recommendations and advice from whom can become an impediment to progress. Certain people may want to be the one to come up with whatever fix is needed, and if they aren’t, they can put up roadblocks or sow seeds of negativity. The internal pecking order can rule the roost. Not ideal when you’re talking about making process improvements, which typically involve changing the way “we’ve always done it.” That’s a delicate endeavor, even for outside consultants. When you have Phil from HR telling a 30-year veteran on the line there’s a better way to do his job, it doesn’t go over very well.
Internal view. Internal teams have a great view of their organization, but not what’s going on out there in the industry at large. They are also not necessarily on top of the latest developments in process improvements, and certainly aren’t experts in things like Lean Six Sigma.
Operations management consultants
Operations consulting, simply put, is a discipline designed to improve your company’s internal operations and processes, making them more efficient, streamlined and ultimately, profitable. At USC Consulting Group, we’ve been dedicated to that since 1968.
Operations consultants will first look at your current operations model, systems and day-to-day processes of getting the job done. They talk with front-line workers, executives and everyone in between. Listening is a big part of the job. They employ methodologies like Lean Six Sigma, the Fishbone, the Five Ms and other tactics to uncover what’s bedeviling your operation and create ways to solve those problems.
Some operations consultants are advisory consultants, or “boardroom consultants,” who perform a two- to three-week study and provide a book of recommendations to help you out, and then hand it to you and go on their way. Implementing consultants, like USC, roll up their sleeves and work with a company’s internal teams to help implement the changes, and ensure the sustainability of those improvements.
Other features of outside consultants include:
Above the fray. This is a main reason execs hire outside consultants. An outside firm is not subject to internal politics and company red tape. They can make the changes necessary for improvements to get results without stepping on anyone’s toes. Oftentimes, recommendations for change go down easier when delivered by someone outside the organization.
A fresh set of eyes. You know what they say about the forest for the trees. Sometimes, when you’re too close to a problem or challenge, you can’t see the big picture of how to solve it. Operations consultants are outside experts who can look at your operations with a fresh set of eyes.
Horsepower. In many cases, operations management firms actually augment the efforts of internal teams and provide “horsepower” to improvement initiatives and help achieve results quicker.
Cost. Outside firms are hired for limited engagements and are not full-time employees. Therefore, a company does not need to provide salaries, benefits and other costs for full-time employees who are part of their internal teams. Yes, the upfront investment for an outside firm is more than you would pay your internal employees. However, once the project engagement is complete, those consulting costs are removed from the ledger, but the benefits are realized for years after.
Industry expertise. Another facet of bringing fresh eyes to a challenge is the fact that those eyes have seen a thing or two. Consultants like USC Consulting Group have worked in the industry for decades and have seen how similar companies have solved similar problems and challenges. While every situation is unique, the decades-long expertise in operational improvements is impossible to duplicate in-house.
Process improvement expertise. It’s a fair bet that companies don’t have many black belts in Lean Six Sigma on staff. LSS is focused on eliminating waste and improving throughput, and it takes years to become an expert in it. External consultants like USC bring that expertise, and even train your staff to implement these tools.
A final thought: Sure, we’re biased. We’re a consulting firm with 55+ years of experience helping companies improve their efficiency and ultimately boost their bottom lines. However, there is a stigma about consulting that seems to be rumored. To clear up this misconception, read our blog “Debunking Myths About Operations Management Consulting.”
Which option should you choose?
Bottom line is you need to make a decision that is best for your business. Whether utilizing your own internal improvement teams or employing an outside consultant, the main focus is reducing your operating costs and improving your productivity and efficiency.
If you would like to talk with one of our subject matter experts to see if USC would be the right fit for your improvement project, give us a call.