In a technical consulting engagement, is it more beneficial to utilize an integrated project team in which consultants and full time employees work side-by-side, or to have a team fully comprised of consultants that hands off the deliverables when the project comes to an end? This question comes up frequently for both consulting companies and their clients. I would venture to say that there is no right answer, as I have been a part of both integrated and all-consultant teams, and have experienced various levels of success on each. There are definitely aspects of projects and clients that make one type of team or the other more appropriate, but these factors are often hard to identify. So here are some general observations about the two options.
Recently, I have been on a couple of integrated project teams. These engagements generally put me, the consultant, in one of two roles. The first involves working in a similar role as the client resources in order to ramp up headcount and meet a deadline. The other role involves filling a specific position within the project team while client resources fill the others. The atmosphere on these teams is always a little different from that of an all-consultant team. One fundamental reason is that the client team members are at work performing their normal jobs while the consultants are working for the client. This difference is subtle, but it lends itself to some important changes in work environment. For example, the client resources are often pulled off the project to help with other issues or endeavors going on in the company. The consultants will tend to be very results driven as they are billing for their time and want to consistently produce. The full time employees will be more process driven as they are accustomed to the company workflows.
Another differentiating aspect of integrated teams is more obvious; the team members have different backgrounds. Consultants generally come from a variety of backgrounds and specialties while client team members usually have similar backgrounds and a longer history in the specific industry. This really works to strengthen the team as it is able to get through a lot of the expected work quickly while still having the flexibility to tackle unexpected hurdles.
I've also been a part of several all-consultant teams. Mostly these teams have been for more technical projects. These are engagements in which the technical skills required are at least as important as the domain knowledge of the business. The atmosphere on these teams tends to revolve around producing results quickly and accurately. However, with the absence of full time employees on the team, there is more work required to fully flesh out business definitions and technical requirements. Therefore, analysts are very important. Subject matter experts on the business side have to be sought out from time to time to answer an array of questions. These projects have a tendency to feel slightly more pressured and this is frequently reflected in the physical accommodations for the team. I've been in my share of "war-rooms".
So which project team make-up do you think is better?