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How to be an effective internal consultant
Improving Reliability and Maintenance from Within
(Basic Internal Consulting)

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   by Stephen J. Thomas
Published By:
Industrial Press Inc.
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The Internal Consultant’s Work Process


A good plan is essential to the internal consultant

It gets you where from here to there safely


8.1 Basic Internal Consulting


Imagine that you are contacted by a manger within your organization concerning a project for you to handle within your role as internal consultant. The project is very complex and involves many departments. Furthermore, it has a great deal of potential to improve your plant’s competitive advantage in relationship to the other plants within your company. The project is to determine how to convert the highly-reactive maintenance organization into one that plans and schedules their work and is focused on equipment reliability vs rapid repair.  


This is no small task. However, the manager is very enthusiastic and, based on input from other managers as well as from personal experience with your work, wants you to be the internal consultant on the project. The question we will answer in this chapter is how you go about the task of taking a manager’s idea related to improved performance and convert it into a real, delivered work process for the organization.  


There are specific steps in this process. If you have ever worked with external consultants, you will recognize this process because with minor variations it is applied by all consulting firms.


The steps of this process are:

1. The vision of the effort

2. Clarification of the assignment

3. Strategy development

4. Information gathering

5. Analysis and gap identification

6. Preparation of the recommendations

7. Presentation with defined next steps

8. Agreement—locking it down

9. Execution




There is also an ongoing process requirement that is part of most of these steps. That is validation of the work. Even though you believe that you clearly understand the manager’s direction as defined in steps 1 and 2, you can never be sure without periodically validating that you are proceeding correctly.


At one point in my career, a manager asked me to review if our computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) could be used to track project costs. I proceeded to do the work per the steps outlined above. However, I never validated my direction so that I could be certain that the manager’s expectations were being satisfied. At some point in the process, I got side-tracked because I had identified more problems with the cost control process—problems beyond the ability of the CMMS to track the expenditures. In reality, the whole process was broken.  


This recognition and wanting to do something about it got me developing broader work process solutions. The work I was doing was far beyond what I was originally contracted to do. My presentation was well thought out; it had many valuable recommendations related to work process improvement. The problem was that what I had delivered was not what the manager had wanted me to do. I had failed to validate my direction periodically. As a result, I failed to deliver a good work product.  


There is another aspect of the list that provides internal consultants with more involvement over a longer time horizon and with greater ability to impact change than their external counterparts have. This is step #11: the audit. For external consultants, their work often ends with the presentation and acceptance of the recommended next steps. Sometimes their work also enters into the area of executing the next steps. But ultimately, external consultants disengage. Not necessarily so with the internal consultants. You remain on site and often have the ability to watch the initiative unfold. This presence gives you an advantage over your external counterparts; it should always be included in the scope of your work effort.  


The third advantage you have over the external consultants is time. Obviously they can not stay on site indefinitely and have to move on. What this means is that some of their proposed next steps, which require time for the site to accept and more time to develop and implement, may never get done. On the other hand, you are not going anywhere. You have the ability to file away until the proper time arrives those next steps that the site may not be ready to implement. At that time, you can then bring them out and with the “time being right” get them implemented.  


When I completed a project designed to replace several separate computerized maintenance management systems with a standard one for all sites, I suggested as a next step to put a multi-site user group in place. The purpose was to ensure consistency across all sites. My idea was turned down. The time was not right. However, as an internal consultant I had the time to wait. Years later, I made the same proposal. This time it was accepted. The time was better and I was there to deliver what had previously been rejected.

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