Why and When You Need a Project Consultant

July 18, 2016 |

Wayne-LeeBy Wayne Lee, CEO, Lee Enterprises Consulting

Special to The Digest

As the CEO of the world’s largest bioenergy consulting group, I am fortunate to have a unique opportunity to view alternative fuels projects from many different perspectives. Within our group, now numbering over 75 experts, I find that each member has his or her own approach which developed from their personal experience and training. As an example, the professors, chemists, and many other Ph.D.s on our team bring us a unique “think tank” of the latest research. They often approach matters from a very intellectual perspective. Our engineers, attorneys, accountants, appraisers, financial, and other experts often bring more of a “nuts and bolts” operational perspective.

Having such a wealth of knowledge with one group allows us the comfort of knowing that we will always be presented with the latest research, the most recent activities, and that we will always hear the caveats and contrary views. It is indeed comforting to have an unparalleled depth of knowledge to lean on. I know that our lawyers, accountants and engineers, won’t see a project through the same eyes as our grant writers, insurance experts or safety/environmental teams. We do know, however, that working together, we have the greatest chance of getting “all the bases covered” and getting the project completed in the most cost efficient, timely matter.

This team assimilation works very well – especially for those of us, including myself, who do project consulting. In that role, we must know the perspective of the financial institution or investors who are funding the project, the technical experts making sure it will work, the attorneys, and accountants who are putting it into correct form, and those who are designing, building, installing, and operating. Meshing all this into one cooperative unit is critical in the more developed worlds of biodiesel and ethanol. It is equally critical, and often more difficult, in the developing worlds of emerging technologies such as waste to energy, pyrolysis and torrefaction.

When a client approaches us to do a single task, it is normally a simple process of selecting the proper expert(s) to do the work, defining the deliverables and time frame, and setting compensation. The more complex projects, however, often need assistance with the entire project from beginning to end. They may need evaluation of technologies, and once selected, in the planning, design, building, and installation. They might need assistance in finding secure sources of feedstock and advice as to selling the offtake. They may need us to find them a good manager and qualified technical employees. They may want us to support them in getting things operational and then insuring their employees are adequately trained to safely and efficiently take over operations.

What I have noted over the years is that the varying perspectives of those who are funding, those who are building, those who are operating, and those who are providing technical expertise is very different. What I have come to realize is that these varying perspectives can often result in some disorder and delay without the benefit of a third party tasked with weaving all these interests into a good final project in which all are happy.   This is the role of the project consultant.

The role of project consultant, whether filled by me personally or one of the select few others in our group, is rather unique. Project consulting requires first and foremost, a clear understanding of everyone’s duties and limitations. It also requires a commitment to blend many varied talents and perspectives into one integrated project. It involves the ability to relay a variety of items to many different participants, all in the professional language they speak.

Many projects are compilations of several smaller projects. However, they are quite often interdependent – each one affecting the others, and the final result. Without proper oversight, it is not uncommon for projects to stall, or even fail, as a result of difficulties in only one area – even when all else seems to be progressing nicely. That is where the project consultant comes in. We make certain that the project stays on its timeline, within its budget, and reaches conclusion as quickly and cost efficiently as possible. To do this, we must be good communicators and facilitators, able to view things from a whole-project perspective. We know that we will inevitably be called upon to unite all the teams and stakeholders to bring the project to an expeditious completion.

So, how does one choose a project consultant? First, look for those that are objective and of the highest integrity. Second, get someone with the ability to handle difficult news and to manage inevitable changes that occur throughout any project, while maintaining calm. Third, make sure the expert can stay focused on the big picture, and ultimately can coordinate all of the moving pieces within the project, all the while keeping a keen eye on minimizing cost and scheduling overruns. In short, look for someone who can function well as an advisor, team leader, facilitator, trainer, expert and developer.

In doing this for many years, I have found that owners, managers, investors, lenders and other project participants have a much higher comfort level when an experienced project consultant is onboard. This comfort is probably well founded. Given the cost of the project and the risks involved, a project consultant is likely one of the project’s best decisions. And, while a good project consultant is undoubtedly a commitment of time and money, the goal is to know that when we finish the project, our knowledge and expertise has saved the client far more than they have invested in us. At Lee Enterprises Consulting, this standard is what I demand in any project consultants assigned from our team and is one we will always maintain.

About the author

Wayne Lee is CEO of Lee Enterprises Consulting, the world’s largest bioenergy consulting group.

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Category: Thought Leadership

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