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How to Know if Your Consulting Firm is Built Correctly

How do you know if you have the right team doing the right things at your consulting firm? With a single, straightforward metric:

Infrastructure Strength

Before we define this metric, let’s examine your job. When you stepped into the role of consulting firm leader, you inherited a giant crate of tasks comprised of requirements for the firm to operate and helpful actions for the firm to thrive.

If you glance around, you’ll spot additional crates of tasks laying around your firm. In fact, your consulting firm actually has a stack of task crates, and the size of the stack depends on your aspirations for your consulting firm. A $100 million, 400-person consulting firm’s stack is the size of a mountain of shipping containers. A solo-shop’s crate is more like a couple of steamer trunks.

When you look at the giant crate(s) of tasks tucked under your desk, you find that some tasks are perfectly matched to your personal strengths. Like analyzing issues, developing solutions, and sampling chocolates. Other tasks, like completing tax forms, may not match your wizardly talents.

Similarly, some tasks require your personal attention. Winning new clients, for instance, falls squarely on you as a consulting firm leader. (Sorry.) Other tasks, such as personalizing the new-client Teddy Bears and nailing down the legal clauses in a Master Services Agreement, could be handled by someone else.

Of course, very few tasks truly require your personal touch. It’s likely that at least 80% of the tasks you currently designate as required could be completed adequately without you.

In an ideal world, you would only devote your time to tasks that require you, and you would only be required to complete tasks that are a perfect match for you.

In the real world, some of what you’re required to do isn’t a perfect match. Oh well. Also, the real world constrains your number of work hours.

Now we have a better picture of the best use of your time and your to-do list:

Best use of time = required tasks and other tasks, starting with perfectly matched tasks and piling on more until you’re out of time. (Note that the best use of your time doesn’t exceed what you can do based on your capability and capacity.)

Your to-do list = everything in your consulting firm’s stack of task crates that you haven’t offloaded to someone else (delegation), offloaded to a machine (automation), or discarded (elimination).

And that, finally, brings us to Infrastructure Strength.

Your individual Infrastructure Strength is your best use of time divided by your to-do list.

If your to-do list contains only your best use of time, then your Infrastructure Strength equals 100%. Perfect!

All the personnel in your consulting firm operate in a similar way. Therefore, your consulting firm’s Infrastructure Strength is the sum of all the individual Infrastructure Strengths of everyone you employ.

If everyone in your consulting firm has a to-do list that exactly matches their best use of time, then your consulting firm is built perfectly.

In all likelihood, your consulting firm’s Infrastructure Strength is pretty low. You and your team are filling your days with plenty of work that is not the best use of their time.

Low Infrastructure strength leads to:

  • Less value created (and less revenue received) with more effort
  • Less enjoyment
  • Less progress toward your aspirations

How to Increase Your Infrastructure Strength

  • Starting at the top of the organization, determine what the best use of time is, based on each person’s Innate Genius, the demands of the role, and the time available.
  • Relentlessly trim what you include in the best use of time, by hunting for opportunities to delegate, automate or eliminate.
  • Repeat this exercise for each person in your consulting firm. You’ll gain a much deeper understanding of your colleagues and the work that’s being done.
  • As you work your way down the organization chart, search for beneficial task substitutions: add a perfect/high-match task that adds significant value for your consulting firm by eliminating a low/no-match task.

At some point—perhaps quickly—you’ll find that you’ve run out of people and you still have plenty of items in your consulting firm’s crates of tasks. Turn to external resources.

Most consulting firms underutilize outside resources and, therefore, their Infrastructure Strength is wildly suboptimized.

Your ability to boost Infrastructure Strength may be constrained by cash flow. However, more likely it’s constrained by fear and doubt. If you’re not confident that your task substitutions will be net cash-positive for your consulting firm, you’ll hesitate to improve your Infrastructure Strength.

While building Infrastructure Strength isn’t as sexy as improving your Business Development skills, it’s unquestionably one of the keys to achieving your aspirations for your consulting firm.

How close is your to-do list to your best use of time?


2 Comments
  1. Josh Quint
    August 11, 2021 at 12:27 pm Reply

    It’s always interesting to see consulting firms — who are by nature an External Resource, underutilize external resources themselves! I find that there’s a strong predication toward “Not-invented-here” syndrome especially in firms that work near or in the tech industry.
    As a consulting firm, we should recognize that other firms may be the experts and the value they present. Using an external resource can also foster relationships between firms presenting new opportunities for trading expertise (and clients!). It can be a win on all points!

    • David A. Fields
      August 11, 2021 at 3:57 pm Reply

      Absolutely right on both counts, Josh. Consulting firms underinvest in infrastructure in general and are often loath to bring in outside help. For some folks, the notion that “We’re good at solving problem X for our clients” translates to “We’re good at solving every problem!” It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe.
      You’re also dead on the mark on the value of partnerships. Even firms you might consider your direct competitors are potentially valuable collaborators.
      I’m glad you added your point of view, Josh.

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