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Guide to hiring independent talent (part 2): Scoping of project or contract role

By Johann van Niekerk

Guide to hiring independent talent (part 2): Scoping of project or contract role

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

This mantra for preparation also holds true when choosing which external contractor to bring into your organisation. Successfully done, it will have a disproportionately positive impact. The foundation of this preparation lies in meticulously defining what you need in the form of a scope or role description. Before rushing out to interview or appoint any external consultants, it is critical to take the time to carefully consider the criteria against which you will make your decision to appoint.

Not only will this assist in making an informed and objective decision, but we know from experience that it will ultimately save you a lot of time and ensure outsized value for the price you pay. Additionally, such a scoping will form the bedrock for the information you share with prospective consultants or contractors. Ensuring both parties are completely aligned on the role and work to be done is certainly a recipe for success.

In part one of our series on hiring independent talent, we discussed how companies can identify the need for independent talent, listed the pros and cons and compared the true cost of independent versus permanent talent. In this article, we highlight how to approach talent scoping and how it is an essential tool to help you choose the ‘right fit’ when it comes to external consultants.

Here then, in our experience, are the major areas that you should consider when putting together a scope for your talent requirements:

Context matters

While it is tempting to jump right into scoping the job at hand, taking time to sketch out the broader context is important for a few reasons:

  1. It is appreciated by consultants, thus setting a good tone for the engagement with prospects
  2. It brings clarity to where responsibility lies and ends
  3. It often allows prospective consultants to share more experiences and inputs based on that information. We have seen many times how this can result in a consultant impressing more than they may have otherwise

Examples of what you should consider sharing include:

  • What project(s) will the consultant be working on, and what is the current state of that project (duration, progress, milestones reached, etc.)
  • What does the rest of the team look like? How big is it, what are their roles and skills, what is the reporting structure, and are there any junior staff where the consultant will play a role in oversight or knowledge transfer?
  • What is the entire team being asked to deliver, and how does the sub-project or workstream that the consultant will be working on dovetail with others?
  • Who are the key stakeholders the consultant will be working with?

Great expectations

Those of us who match independents to roles and projects always hope for as much information as possible upfront.

There is good reason for this: better scoping allows for a better match. From our many years of experience, we know for a fact that this will lead to better decisions in terms of who to appoint, better value for money, and a much higher likelihood of the independent loving the work they do for you.

The following are key areas to clarify:

  1. Skillset: What skills would you want the appointed consultant to have? It is always worth going one layer deeper on this. While you might need a data analyst, what specific technical skills would you want to see? Besides those competencies, you might need a strong communicator or someone who is great at dealing with challenging stakeholders.

    Thinking through the job to be done on a daily or weekly basis will help answer some of these questions. To round it all off, it is critical to consider what the must-haves are versus the nice-to-haves. While the aim is always to find the perfect consultant, knowing where you are prepared to compromise will be key in making a final decision.  
  2. Industry experience: One of the great advantages of consultants is that they often bring a range of experiences, including industry experience. You might be in financial services, but would a background in FMCG be useful for the project you’re working on? If you are in insurance, is insurance experience critical, or could it be any financial services experience? Would a background from your own company, competitor, or having previously worked at one of the large consulting firms be advantageous?

    So much learning happens on the job. Thinking through the industries where that can be gained is a valuable tool to ensure the consultant you choose brings not only what you know you need but quite possibly what you don’t yet know you need!
  3. Deliverables: This defines exactly what the consultant will be doing. When detailing the deliverables, you will get a clear picture of what you expect the consultant to do during the entirety of the project. This can make selecting the ‘right fit’ consultant much easier. Let’s take another example: A client might be working on a large transformation project which requires cost optimisation. Knowing this will be critical during the section process because cost optimisation is a quantifiable element.

    When faced with two or more choices of candidates, a client can look at the hard number that a candidate presents to identify who would work best for their project. This can only be known because the scope had defined examples of desired outputs. A candidate who has fewer years of experience but presents better figures can then be chosen over someone who has additional experience.
  4. Experience range: Consider the rest of your team or the group working on the project. Given that, how experienced will the consultant need to be to ensure the right level of support and alignment with the team? Does it even matter?

    While experience is often related to cost, it is also a good indicator of the maturity and breadth of experience of the consultant, and thus their ability to hit the ground running or deal with diverse or unexpected situations.
  5. Duration and capacity required: Being clear on the time you need, and for how long will have a direct bearing on the consultants you can consider, as well as the rates they will put forward. While some independents prefer to take on full-time roles, some prefer to work on a few clients at the same time. Knowing whether you truly need a full-time or part-time resource, or whether you could consider either will impact your options.

    Likewise, with duration – many independents will offer reduced rates for long-term contracts. It would thus be preferable, if budget and planning allow, to offer an 8-month contract rather than for four months and then find yourself needing to extend.
  6. Location: The world has gone remote, and that radically widens the talent options available to employers on a contract basis. That said, every role is different. Some can have deliverables clearly packaged and worked on independently, and thus remotely. Others require a lot of collaboration, and so the ability to come into an office would be preferable. In many cases, local knowledge is critical, for example, with regulatory roles. That would therefore mean excluding any consultants from outside the country.

    We have even seen cases where the ability to work in a different time zone is a real advantage – allowing one resource to hand over to another in a different time zone, thus increasing the amount of work that can be done in 24 hours.
  7. Budget: Many potential contracts fall over because of budgets not being clarified upfront. Knowing what you can spend is a critical piece of information to establish as soon as possible.

    Equally important is knowing whether you could flex on that budget or not. This will allow you to quickly exclude options falling outside of what can be afforded so that you can focus on those that are within budget, or facilitate an early discussion on negotiability. We know from experience that this particular point is one area where you can save yourselves a lot of potentially wasted time.

To the victor goes the spoils..!

Winning the war for talent requires a battle plan. In these times of growing use of expert independent consultants and contractors, this is as true for them as it would be for permanent resources.

Those firms that can most successfully implement good scoping and selection of key independent resources will ultimately execute their projects and work more efficiently and effectively, yielding better business results. It, therefore, stands to reason that this is mission critical.

About the author

Johann van Niekerk is Co-founder & CEO of Outsized, responsible also for the day-to-day operations of the South African entity. Johann is a qualified actuary and worked as a product development specialist at Metropolitan Life. He later headed the Business Development function at reinsurer RGA, later Marketing as well as being the General Manager at RGA Ventures – the corporate venturing arm. Before joining Outsized, Johann was the General Manager of RGAx, RGA’s innovation accelerator.