Tight budgets for many companies have resulted in the hiring of simulation consultant for specialized critical projects rather than develop internal expertise. This article gives some practical guidelines for selecting the right consultant for your project.
Define the Problem
John Dewey’s famous quote, “A problem well stated is a problem half solved,” emphasizes the importance of clearly defining the problem before attempting to find a solution. This is particularly relevant in the business world, where a lack of clarity around a problem can result in wasted time, resources, and money. To ensure that everyone involved in a project is on the same page, it is crucial to develop a written “requirements” document.
A requirements document lays out the problem at hand, along with the desired outcomes and any constraints that must be considered. This document should be reviewed and agreed upon by all stakeholders before any work begins. By doing so, everyone involved can have a clear understanding of the problem and can work together to develop an effective solution.
It’s important to resist the temptation to hire a consultant too early in the process. Without a clear understanding of the problem, a consultant may not be able to provide the best possible solution. Instead, take the time to carefully define the problem and develop a requirements document before seeking outside help. This will ensure that any consultants brought in can be more effective and efficient in their work, resulting in a better outcome for everyone involved.
Determine the Goal
“A model that will answer every question takes an infinite time to build.” Document exactly what you want the model to answer. What is the scope of the system to be modeled? What level of detail is expected? Scope and detail decisions are made primarily by the questions that the model is expected to answer. If you haven’t defined the goal, it is impossible to estimate project cost!
Outline the Consultant’s Responsibility
Clearly state the consultant’s responsibility. Define what you will do and what the consultant is responsible for completing. For example: do you want written documentation about model functionality created by the consultant or do you want to document the model yourself? Will the consultant collect data or will information be collected by internal resources? Do you want to run experiments with the model or do you want all experiments performed by the consultant? If you haven’t defined the consultant’s responsibility, you can’t obtain an accurate price.
Develop the Criteria to Test the Model
What tests will be run to validate the operation of the model? The successful completion of the tests becomes the acceptance criteria for the project. You can use the consultant to guide you through the process of defining test to validate your model. This pre-work will actually speed project development because it serves as an extension of the goal and will help to avoid disagreements in later project phases.
Decide on the Attributes of the Consultant
“A man who carries a cat by the tail, learns something he can learn in no other way.” – Mark Twain. There are huge differences between consultants. You will find a wide variety in experience, cost and availability. Academics (professors or graduate students) are generally less expensive, but usually work according to their own schedule rather than yours (consulting is not their primary business). A consultant without previous simulation experience can provide bargain initial prices, but become mired in the complexities of unfamiliar simulation techniques and model development.
Considerations in selecting a simulation consultant might include the following:
- How many years’ of simulation experience do they have?
- Do they have the necessary technical resources (people) and software?
- Have they completed similar projects?
- Can they provide references that you can contact?
- Who will actually do the work? (You will want to meet the project people rather than just the salesman)
- Do they have a well-defined project methodology?
You may find that related experience requires higher daily rates but offers lower overall costs. The consultant can draw on past experience which will shorten the project timeline and in addition may be able to offer suggestions from past project interactions.