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Value of consultants?

Value of Consultants?

  • Generally help make planning process smoother

    Votes: 7 41.2%
  • Generally get in the way/make planning process more difficult

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Neither, just puppets of client and planning process is generally the same

    Votes: 7 41.2%
  • Other, explain below

    Votes: 3 17.6%

  • Total voters
    17
  • Poll closed .

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
Okay, I would love to hear ya’lls feed back on this. I have yet to make up my mind, but rather often conflicted. I am a year out of my MSP program and coming up on a year with my first job as a Planner for a consultant firm. Our clients include developers, universities, government organizations (including city planning departments), and non-governmental organizations.

The idea is that a consultant can provide some outside view and help developers through the planning/zoning process or assist Universities, NGO’s, and/or GO’s with larger projects when the don’t have the staff.

While there is always someone who hires and pays us (thus thinking we are valuable), there are always people (often in the same organization) who think the opposite, and give us the “why are you here” vibe. There is a constant juggling act between offering in-put and “stepping on someone’s toe’s” creating a strange vibe and a sometimes not so productive atmosphere.

I know there are hundreds of other firms large and small that perform these ‘planning consultant’ tasks, and I assume many of you have dealt with or been a part of this process from one side or another.

So what do you think?
 
Messages
5,352
Points
31
I'm pretty sure this topic was discussed quite some time ago. When I worked in the public sector, I was somewhat resentful of the unknown, non-local consultants who were paid to do the work I felt that my co-workers and myself were capable of doing, such as some of the more substantial work on the CZO revision and the master plan. I understood that the dept didn't have the resources to pull us away from our daily duties or to pay us overtime to work on those projects. But at the same time I felt like we were pigeonholed into one specific area without being given the opportunity to grow in other areas.

Now that I'm on the other side of the fence, I'm more understanding towards the planners with whom I've worked on some projects. I've never encountered any resentment or ill feelings from any of them.
 

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
20,232
Points
52
So far, every consultant that I have worked with, has asked me for alot of information, and just gave me back the information, and charged the city. So, the city payed me, then payed them. For outside, every consultant seems for forget one thing or another on a plan, and only a few of the big name guys have been of any help.
 

PlannerByDay

Cyburbian
Messages
1,827
Points
24
This thread will be of interest to me. I am a consultant and generally feel there is a place for us in the planning field. My company generally work with rural govenments where they are more than egar to have someone who know what planning is come in an take "the bull by the horns" and get things accomplished.

I am presently working with a rural communtiy planning commission which has been working on their Master Plan for over a year now and they could not get anything done. I got in there, resolved their differences, got them to come to an agreement on a number of issues that they were confronted with and kept the process going. Currently, the plan is now almost done and it has only been 4 months.

In this instance I see consultans as moderators or someone who can help the community resolve their differences. Often times I feel like an intruder but I simply reassure the client that this is you plan and I work for you. That seems to calm most anxiety.
 

Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
Messages
3,221
Points
29
Some firms are just downright arrogant - they treat their clients poorly. Not us. We are pretty focused on customer service and are always available to answer the clients questions. It helps because we are small. Plus, the working conditions are excellent. My company has a lot of respect for their employees and clients. Our planning department is growing, which is an excellent thing during these tough economic times. I am fortunate to work for one of the better consulting firms.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
There is some value to consultants:
- They can be the ones to propose difficult ideas, taking the heat off of city staff.
- They can bring an outside perspective.
- They are often viewed as more "experts" than local staff.
- They can supplement small staffs of fill in for no staff, such as rural areas.

I have also seen some problems:
- Boiler-plate plans that differ very little from one community to the next. (I call it "Search and Replace Planning.")
- Lack of familiarity with the local area (on many levels).
- Arrogance, particularly to local staff. (If the local guy thought it up, we need to show something else.)
- They do often tend to simply collect and repeat information given to them by locals.

I have been fortunate lately to work with a very good planning consultant. That is certainly not the case in the past, even within the same firm.
 

pete-rock

Cyburbian
Messages
1,550
Points
24
Michael Stumpf said:
There is some value to consultants:
- They can be the ones to propose difficult ideas, taking the heat off of city staff.
- They can bring an outside perspective.
- They are often viewed as more "experts" than local staff.
- They can supplement small staffs of fill in for no staff, such as rural areas.

I would agree these are the biggest advantages for consultants.

I worked in government for a number of years and I'm now in my third year in the private sector. Mostly we can say some things that government can't or won't say, within reason. And we do bring more value from work outside a given area.

However, one consultant told me once, "we take the watch off your arm to tell you what time it is."
 

mike gurnee

Cyburbian
Messages
3,066
Points
31
There are consultants from hell, El Guapo used to work for one. My best luck has been with very small staffs (1-2). The larger, the more arrogant, IMO. Regardless, the locals have to stay on top of the project, or it becomes the consultant's boiler plate.

My best consultant uses: a one person operation doing a comp plan, hiring out a grant program environmental review when I did not have time, outside help to reorganize our housing rehab program, and the real specialties such as historic preservatioin surveys.

My worst: retaining ElGuapo's former boss for a citizen participation program.
 

el Guapo

Capitalist
Messages
5,995
Points
31
Mike,

Seeing as you have named me in a thread, please make sure to mention how EG was doing his best to keep his evil boss on track and even offered to finish the contract for free on his own time.
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,623
Points
34
I agree with Mike Stumpf's assessment of their usefulness 100%. We tend to use consultants to:

Propose difficult ideas, taking the heat off of city staff.

And a different spins on Mikes:

-Supplement staffs in the "You want it when? OK What doesnt get done?" situation. We rarely give them free reign - they always report to me or Prudence, and we clear their work product before it hits committee level.

- In some cases, confirm that local staff are experts so future consultants should be limited in their scope of work.
 

mike gurnee

Cyburbian
Messages
3,066
Points
31
EG was doing his best to keep his evil boss on track and even offered to finish the contact for free on his own time.

No insult intended towards the Guap (but he was a consultant at the time).

Go study for the AICP, oh worthy Guapo, I just failed the KS CDBG adiministrators' recertification "quiz".
 

Repo Man

Cyburbian
Messages
2,549
Points
25
I think they can be useful when there are projects that need to get done and staff doesn't have a vast knowledge in that subject.

I do think that a lot of consultants use boiler plate plans. I worked for a City and the consultants actually had missed a few instances where another City, not even in Wiscsonsin, was named. There were also road names from another City. Completely unprofessional and easily avoidable if you use the "Find/Replace" feature in Word. We asked you do do a plan for our city, not give us another plan you did with another City because you are too lazy to start from scratch.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
jtfortin said:
Completely unprofessional and easily avoidable if you use the "Find/Replace" feature in Word.

...which leads to another sort of problem, when the correct name gets replaced with the wrong one.

PM me with the consultant name. I would be curious to see if it is the same one.
 

Repo Man

Cyburbian
Messages
2,549
Points
25
Hey Mike - you need to clean out your private message box. It won't let me PM you because your box is full.
 

Mud Princess

Cyburbian
Messages
4,898
Points
27
Chet said:
We rarely give them free reign - they always report to me or Prudence, and we clear their work product before it hits committee level.

As a consultant, I don't want free reign. The client needs to be involved in the process, whether it's pointing us in the right direction ("I can introduce you to so-and-so staffperson"), providing copies of in-house materials, or simply clarifying what the objectives of the assignment are.

My favorite clients are those who meet us halfway. My least favorite are those who dump the work in our laps, make themselves inaccessible, and then complain when the project comes in over budget.

I could write a book on client responsibilities when they hire a consultant.
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
Mud Princess said:
I could write a book on client responsibilities when they hire a consultant.

I know you were being sarcastic, but maybe you should. I would buy it.
 

Repo Man

Cyburbian
Messages
2,549
Points
25
Mud Princess said:
I could write a book on client responsibilities when they hire a consultant.

There was a planning commissioner's journal article titled "Working With Consultants" by Greg Dale I found it very helpful.
 

biscuit

Cyburbian
Messages
3,904
Points
25
el Guapo said:
That is the best news a person could hope for. I hate CDBGs.

Who doesn't. Unfortunately, working in community development, it's pretty much all I do these days (Making me miss the design work I was able to do while in consulting). I won't complain however. I'm a young planner and the pay's good. So bring it on!
 

green lizard

Member
Messages
133
Points
6
michaelskis said:
So far, every consultant that I have worked with, has asked me for alot of information, and just gave me back the information, and charged the city.

This is the case a lot of times...
But being a consultant let me add that they are like dogs...

1) Don't show them fear.
2) Don't let them off the leash.
3) Beat them with a rolled up newspaper when they get
it wrong.
4) Reward them when they are loyal.

Hope this helps
 

Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
Messages
3,221
Points
29
green lizard said:
1) Don't show them fear.
2) Don't let them off the leash.
3) Beat them with a rolled up newspaper when they get it wrong.
4) Reward them when they are loyal.

And sometimes, don't forget, the client can get it wrong, too. The worst: Expanding the scope of the project beyond what was stated in the RFP. However, a good project manager will rein in any unneccessary costs.
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,623
Points
34
Alan said:
However, a good project manager will rein in any unneccessary costs.

Or tactfully offer the client an amended scope of services and fee rider.
 

green lizard

Member
Messages
133
Points
6
Alan said:
And sometimes, don't forget, the client can get it wrong, too.

I was having fun at the expense of consultants (refer
to list of dog behavior modifications)

But, you are right, the clients do get it wrong. That is
why they hire us, consultants. One thing I believe that all
consultants Should know is "the client is always right". If he
is not (Imagine that) then we must lead him by the hand to the
right conclusion (ours). We try to make our fees large enough
and our scopes tight enough to try to make a profit. But in the
end we must do the best job possible with integrity and pride.

or

(if the client gives you a hard time, bite him)
 

Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
Messages
3,221
Points
29
green lizard said:
I was having fun at the expense of consultants

I thought so! No harm done, though I did think you were sort of indiscriminately painting consultants in a bad way. Of course you were sort of joking - there is much truth to what you say. A new project just came into our office that I found offensive. I would love to go into details here, but I think a co-worker lurks in these forums, so I don't want to compromise the project or our firm. The project isn't that bad, since it is a preliminary study, but the future ramifications of any actions that come out of this study could impact the fiscal health of some of our more interesting clients that really need our help. All I can do is wait and see. Thankfully I'm not on that project.
 

The One

Cyburbian
Messages
8,289
Points
30
well

While with a rural County, I loved our consultants:l: :g: They kept us moving forward on major long range projects that staff just couldn't do alone with all of the other fires found in a rural area planning office ;-) :D Plus they could propose new staff ideas with ease and get a better political response, because they are always considered the "expert" over staff (also one of my gripes about consultants)....:-o :p :r:

Working in a medium or large office, consultants just tend to take away the fun parts of the planning job, especially long range planning work, leaving the rest of us with the daily drudgery of process planning :-c :-@ :-{ +o( :victory: x| :u:
 

Rumpy Tunanator

Cyburbian
Messages
4,473
Points
25
michaelskis said:
So far, every consultant that I have worked with, has asked me for alot of information, and just gave me back the information, and charged the city. So, the city payed me, then payed them. For outside, every consultant seems for forget one thing or another on a plan, and only a few of the big name guys have been of any help.
That's what they do here. Scumbags.......
 

jordanb

Cyburbian
Messages
3,232
Points
25
We typically use consultants because the political people assume they're smarter than staff members, so if you take a report and give it to a consultant and have them put their flashy logo on it then it'll go a lot further.
 

natski

Cyburbian
Messages
2,579
Points
22
jordanb said:
We typically use consultants because the political people assume they're smarter than staff members, so if you take a report and give it to a consultant and have them put their flashy logo on it then it'll go a lot further.


Definitely agree with that one
 
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