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
“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” – John Dewey. A written “requirements” document should be developed, reviewed, and agreed upon by all involved as a first step. If you haven’t defined the problem, it’s too early to hire a consultant!
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.
Obtain a Written Proposal
Require the consultant to provide a written proposal including: a statement of the problem, goal to be achieved, responsibilities, criteria for validation and acceptance, project methodology and cost. Some consultants work on an hourly basis. An experienced consultant should be able to provide a fixed price from interviews over the phone and online meetings.
Some consultants are willing to provide an unqualified guarantee on their work such as “If you are not completely satisfied with our work, you don’t pay.” Check to see how confident the consultant is in the quality of their work.
Finally, the project may spark new questions not answered by the original project. Most projects evolve as insight is gained from the simulation process. How will this evolution be handled in project scope, responsibility, and pricing? The proposal should address project changes. Obtain in writing the cost for updates to the model beyond the scope of the project.
Would you like further information about consulting? Let us know what questions you have in the comments section below, and we can get back to you.