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Thread: When a consultant goes bad

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    When a consultant goes bad

    A news item has been making its way around economic development circles. To some, it has been long anticipated.

    http://www.southsidermagazine.com/Ar...-Opinions.html

    The comment I liked best was:

    A young project manager on the Angelou team, said to be distracted by serious personal pressures revolving around a sick infant, was held responsible for the cut-and-paste.

    That's interesting. Apparently this problem has been going on for some time and involved all of their project managers, or it would at least appear so to anyone who has read several of their studies. They are all but indistinguishable.

    The article refers to the company's reputation. More likely, that has to do with the huge sums they spend to advertise and to co-opt organizations like IEDC through their sponsorship - in return for conference sessions and prolific advertising on every email from the organization. The reputation is certainly not based on the quality of their work.

    Many of the "big name" consulting firms simply rehash old work for new clients. It is nice to see one - and one of the worst - finally get called on it.
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Never!

    A consulting firm practicing "cut and paste"? Surely not!

    While city planning consultants help many communities, many others are ill served by planners who can't distinguish professional obligation from the desire to please the boss and collect that paycheck.

    The practice of giving too little consideration to the particular circumstances of a city, town, or neighborhood just shows that the consultants involved aren't truly professional. If city planning means anything, it must be attentive to the particularities of place.

    In fairness, some places, perhaps many places, should get exactly the same advice. But usually when we receive a "cut and paste" job, it's more laziness or running out of time, rather than sincerely providing the best available solution.

    I've read this news report in a couple of places now, so it's about time that this practice be exposed in places where perhaps elected officials would notice.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I will respond.. tomorrow.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I would be mad as hell. At myself for not doing a better job of consultant selection; at myself for not staying on top of the work in progress. Then there is the head consultant who creates excuses and blames an employee ('the dog ate the original' would have been better).

    I cut and paste all the time--sort of. There really is no reason to reinvent the wheel. At a recent commission meeting discussing dark skys, I told the board what I had found in other communities. Then we starting tweaking the language to meet local conditions and needs. It was all very open, and the final language was tailored to Greensburg.

    I am very leary of 'national reputation' consultants, those who bring in a silver-tongued orator to make the sales pitch and then turn the project over to inexperienced flunkies. But I also have trouble sympathizing with the locals that do not stay on top of the project.

    The end result for Lexington (and particularly for us) is that there will no trust in ANY plan for years.

    --a Lexington native

  5. #5
    Cyburbian MazerRackham's avatar
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    It's not just the national consultants doing this. There is a planning consultant in my area who has "his" zoning code, "his" subdivision regulations and "his" comprehensive plan. Yes, he may shuffle the order a bit but the pieces read verbatim. I even found one adopted zoning code from one of my clients, which I downloaded from their online municipal code that still had another city's name...TWICE! The City Clerk was a bit embarrassed when I pointed that out.

    If you get a fee proposal that's half as much as the next highest, you have to ask yourself just how that firm can work so cheaply.
    "The devil bought the key to Branson. Drives a backhoe and wears a gold chain." --- Jay Farrar from the song "Barstow"

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MazerRackham View post
    If you get a fee proposal that's half as much as the next highest, you have to ask yourself just how that firm can work so cheaply.
    Well, keep in mind that some of us have lower overhead precisely because we don't have expansive offices, admin staff and low-level inexperienced flunkies to whom we farm out the work. We do it all ourselves and take pride in providing a highly customized product.

    The firm referenced in the original post gets paid two to three times more than many smaller but equally qualified (or more qualified!) economic development consultants - simply because they are a "big name." That really galls me.

    Check your references, folks. My colleague and I recently landed a project after the client called each and every one of the references we provided, and requested several samples of our work (none of which was identical). I wish all potential clients would do that much due diligence.

    On a side note, I am a dues-paying member of the IEDC... yet I've had to compete with them for consulting work! Yes, the IEDC has its own "advisory" arm, and they respond to RFPs. That's a pet peeve of mine - they should not be competing with their own members. Fortunately, I've beat them twice.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Local first?

    Besides the cut & paste (BFD), I am wondering why a municipality would go with the low bidder as opposed to someone nearby who might offer a better perspective.

    Yep, the outside viewpoint is sometimes helpful, and a consultant who is [fires up new GPS unit] a thousand miles away can be blamed for much that goes wrong. But why not keep the payments in the state or region?

    I once sat in a zoning/leasing discussion with a school system, and the phrase "the Rouge plant" was used (it was a couple miles away). Lead negotiator, a Texan, blanked on that.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MazerRackham View post
    I even found one adopted zoning code from one of my clients, which I downloaded from their online municipal code that still had another city's name...TWICE!
    It's funny at a conference last week where a panel in one session discussed implementing hybrid codes, a question was asked of one of the speakers who I think worked for Clarion as to what a small town community should do who can't afford a Clarion to revamp their codes, to which the guy noted just to go to other municipalities' websites and take what sounds good.

    It would be hilarious if a town's zoning code online actually just linked to another town's website with the instruction of just replacing all instances of Town A with Town B.

  9. #9
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    A friend of mine used to work for that particular firm. It wasn't long before he decided to branch out on his own and create his own firm, largely because he didn't like what he was seeing.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  10. #10
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Veloise View post
    Besides the cut & paste (BFD), I am wondering why a municipality would go with the low bidder as opposed to someone nearby who might offer a better perspective.

    Yep, the outside viewpoint is sometimes helpful, and a consultant who is [fires up new GPS unit] a thousand miles away can be blamed for much that goes wrong. But why not keep the payments in the state or region?

    I once sat in a zoning/leasing discussion with a school system, and the phrase "the Rouge plant" was used (it was a couple miles away). Lead negotiator, a Texan, blanked on that.
    I don't know what it is like in all places, but in my community we are often required by law to go with the lowest bidder.

    Off-topic:
    I had to look up what "the Rouge plant" was. I doubt anyone who is not either a automobile/industrial history buff or a industrial developer/businessperson would know the reference, regardless of where they're from (unless they're from Metro Detroit or involved somehow in the auto industry).

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    A friend of mine used to work for that particular firm. It wasn't long before he decided to branch out on his own and create his own firm, largely because he didn't like what he was seeing.
    They've had a couple of those, haven't they? Or maybe it just seems that way, given the number of consultants based in Austin...

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Veloise View post
    Besides the cut & paste (BFD), I am wondering why a municipality would go with the low bidder as opposed to someone nearby who might offer a better perspective.

    Yep, the outside viewpoint is sometimes helpful, and a consultant who is [fires up new GPS unit] a thousand miles away can be blamed for much that goes wrong. But why not keep the payments in the state or region?

    I once sat in a zoning/leasing discussion with a school system, and the phrase "the Rouge plant" was used (it was a couple miles away). Lead negotiator, a Texan, blanked on that.
    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    I don't know what it is like in all places, but in my community we are often required by law to go with the lowest bidder.
    I will also add that too many municipalities are mesmerized by "big names" the way many people are enthralled by movie stars and other celebs. There also tends to be considerable bias in some localities against locals as opposed to nationals, too.

    This seems to be a continuing problem with Buffalo, NY, and its numerous failed attempts to redevelop its waterfront. The Buffalo waterfront is an inhospitable environment from November through March, yet just about every plan for the waterfront that gets approved (and later junked) is better suited to San Diego than Buffalo. Trust me, not a whole lot of people are going to be regularly strolling a waterfront boardwalk in Buffalo, NY in January -- at least not until global warming makes WNY a whole lot warmer in the winter!

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    ...
    Off-topic:
    I had to look up what "the Rouge plant" was. I doubt anyone who is not either a automobile/industrial history buff or a industrial developer/businessperson would know the reference, regardless of where they're from (unless they're from Metro Detroit or involved somehow in the auto industry).
    That is my point. The negotiations were going along fairly well until the school official referenced this local feature, and the Person From Another State said, "what is the Rouge Plant?"

    NB: this took place in Dearborn.

    It did not cast us (cellular provider client) in the best light.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    I don't know what it is like in all places, but in my community we are often required by law to go with the lowest bidder.
    CA is quirky like always. A muini must take the lowest bid when it comes to construction contracts, however a muini is only required by state law to accept the "highest quality" bid for engineering or architectural work (planning included). You sometimes think it would be reversed. Oh well.


    I am not going to lie. As a former consultant, i copied and paste basic text all the time. You know, this whole "not reinvent" the wheel kind of thing, however I have never copied and paste an entire document. I usually gutted policies and implementation measures and specifically tailored it to the community i was working in, or added things that were project specific. QA&QC usually caught the "insert community name" thing, but it slipped on occasion, but never on a public document. All in all most documents i produced morphed into about 85% original content to that specific muini and 15% copy because again, it is all basic stuff. Ever look at an EIR? It is all the same, so expect repetition. Seriously. There has to be some wiggle room.

    I guess i am a little perplexed that the PM or PIC or whatever didn't take the fall versus passing the buck on the employee. I know I sure as hell said it was "my mistake" versus blaming our assistant planner or intern. IMO that is just Busch League.

    It all comes down to Interviews and references. Don't let some fancy presentation fool you, and as MP said. References, check them. Always check them.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    [OT]
    ...

    I guess i am a little perplexed that the PM or PIC or whatever didn't take the fall versus passing the buck on the employee. I know I sure as hell said it was "my mistake" versus blaming our assistant planner or intern. IMO that is just Busch League.
    ....
    And let me tell you, being thrown under a bus by one of your bosses over something that wasn't in your control just to save face sucks.

  16. #16
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mud Princess View post
    They've had a couple of those, haven't they? Or maybe it just seems that way, given the number of consultants based in Austin...
    I personally know of at least two ED firms based in Austin alone that were started by people unhappy with the quality of product being put out at Angelou. You'll also find an incredible number of high-functioning municipal ED directors (i.e. able to do hardcore analysis instead of just being cheerleaders) in the Austin area for this same reason.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  17. #17
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    The city really should have safeguards in their tender and hire process to attempt to prevent this from happening.
    When we tender for consultants we go for a range, from big to small operators. We look at price differences and we look at what work the companies have undertaken previously and whether it from a price point of view we are going to get a rehash.

    We look at the staff from each operator that would be working on the project and their experience- no offense interns- but we don't want an intern working on the whole project, we want a senior or director supervising, taking responsibility and driving the project.

    Also we do our research- what other councils have had similar projects undertaken for them? Which firms did these projects? Why is our project or area different to these and what are our points of difference- and that has to be in some way, written into the brief for tenders.

    Notwithstanding, i would expect consultants to constantly repeat a lot of their general information they use for projects, as there is no point in reinventing the wheel, plus we are more concerned with how they put this knowledge into practice in the rest of the project.
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    Been a lurker for awhile, but simply couldn't help adding a story to this thread:

    I worked with a young planner that frequently did cut & paste jobs, often leaving the previous City's name, street names, and names of elected officials in the "new" document. He even *absent-mindedly* put his home phone number on the cover of a Specific Plan in place of the company phone number. When brought to his attention, he shrugged his shoulders and laughed it off.

    I understand boilerplate and not reinventing the wheel, but too many young planners are focused on quantity rather than quality. Pride of work is severely lacking these days.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Fracturbian View post
    He even *absent-mindedly* put his home phone number on the cover of a Specific Plan in place of the company phone number. When brought to his attention, he shrugged his shoulders and laughed it off.
    I did that once, put my home number instead of the company number and did sort of laugh and shrugged off, but to my defense I was slammed with many projects and not enough planners and chopped it up since then as a learning experience.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I ran across two environmental assessments completed by FEMA for Greensburg projects. Both stated that the city did not participate in the Flood Insurance Program. Wrong.

    Instead of consuting with city staff, they looked at our web page. Weak. Very Weak.

  21. #21
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  22. #22
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    A friend of mine used to work for that particular firm. It wasn't long before he decided to branch out on his own and create his own firm, largely because he didn't like what he was seeing.
    That doesn't surprise me...our current code was done obviously with alot of cut and paste. I mean I have drafted a Land Development Code and totally understand because it is a large document and there are somethings that are the same from town to town, but you should charge accordingly if all you going to do is cut and paste and do find and replace. We want to redo our code, but after our last experience, would prefer a small shop/independent type consultant to do it.
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  23. #23
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Fracturbian View post
    Been a lurker for awhile, but simply couldn't help adding a story to this thread:

    I worked with a young planner that frequently did cut & paste jobs, often leaving the previous City's name, street names, and names of elected officials in the "new" document. He even *absent-mindedly* put his home phone number on the cover of a Specific Plan in place of the company phone number. When brought to his attention, he shrugged his shoulders and laughed it off.

    I understand boilerplate and not reinventing the wheel, but too many young planners are focused on quantity rather than quality. Pride of work is severely lacking these days.
    First, welcome to the threads Fracturbian!

    I understand your sentiment, but in the defense of young planners (which I consider myself to be) I thought I would mention that I experience the opposite of this rather frequently. Burned out older planners who are nearing retirement but still working and producing shoddy documents then being hyper sensitive about younger planners commenting on them or editing anything - to the point of hording documents. The pendulum certainly swings both ways.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Fracturbian View post
    Been a lurker for awhile, but simply couldn't help adding a story to this thread:

    I worked with a young planner that frequently did cut & paste jobs, often leaving the previous City's name, street names, and names of elected officials in the "new" document. He even *absent-mindedly* put his home phone number on the cover of a Specific Plan in place of the company phone number. When brought to his attention, he shrugged his shoulders and laughed it off.

    I understand boilerplate and not reinventing the wheel, but too many young planners are focused on quantity rather than quality. Pride of work is severely lacking these days.
    Welcome!

    I want to make clear that this was not simply a case of a "young planner" with "personal problems". The company is very well known among its competitors for reusing material. Every one of its reports reads the same. That is the standard operating practice with them.
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  25. #25
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by beach_bum View post
    That doesn't surprise me...our current code was done obviously with alot of cut and paste. I mean I have drafted a Land Development Code and totally understand because it is a large document and there are somethings that are the same from town to town, but you should charge accordingly if all you going to do is cut and paste and do find and replace. We want to redo our code, but after our last experience, would prefer a small shop/independent type consultant to do it.
    Consultant presented a new zoning ordinance to the township; its name is similar to Granite. Cut & paste became evident in the part of the verbiage where it goes into soils and mining operations.

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