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The Consultancy Playbook: revolution or evolution?

The UK Government released the Consultancy Playbook in May to offer a comprehensive guide for the public sector on how to procure and engage with consultants like us more effectively.

We have sifted through the Consultancy Playbook and highlighted some of the key points.

Before we start, it’s notable there is key common thread which weaves itself through each Playbook component; the government’s drive towards creating a more knowledgeable and capable internal workforce by gaining better knowledge transfer from its consultants.


The newly formed Government Consulting Hub is a good example of central government looking to become more self-sufficient. The Government Consulting Hub co-wrote the Playbook. This self-sufficiency can only be a good thing as it will drive better engagement with the consultancy market.


Building Civil Service Capability


So how does the Playbook recommend government builds its capability? There is a strong view that ‘in-scope’ organisations think about the consultancy requirement from a strategic position. For example, if there is a long term or ‘enduring need for the capability’ then the driver is to try and plan to resource the need by upskilling the existing workforce. The Playbook believes there is two ways to achieve this:


· Firstly, upskilling can be achieved by actively procuring the service from the consultancy market, including structuring evaluation criteria to explicitly test how the consultant will provide knowledge transfer during the consultancy services; and

· Secondly, by ensuring all specifications in consultant’s contracts include knowledge and skills transfer as a deliverable.

In practice, these measures facilitate upskilling, but government still needs to ensure their workforce is willing, able and has the time to accept this knowledge transfer.


Writing More Effective Specifications for the Consultancy Market


A refreshing theme within the Playbook is that there is clearly a recognition within central government not to stifle unique innovations that the consultancy market can offer by moving to less ‘input-based specifications’ which can “limit creativity and bespoke approaches”. Instead, it moves more towards ‘output-based specifications’ which “set out deliverables without prescribing how they should be achieved”. This will no doubt enable better use of digital technologies which many consultants, including Procur3d, are starting to leverage in their day-to-day work.


Furthermore, the Playbook emphasises the need to create clear outcomes, deliverables, and timeframes for consultancy engagements. Like any other contract, this is not revolutionary, but it illustrates a point that is quite often forgotten when engaging professional services consultancies and can create problems down the line for both parties.


Another interesting point the Playbook makes here includes better engagement with the consultancy market to help ‘use the markets knowledge and expertise’ to build out requirements and specifications. This is an admirable aspiration and acknowledges the need for two-way engagement, with better in-scope organisation and the consultancy market.


However, with the Playbook itself recommending the use of the CCS Frameworks, first and foremost, then this engagement is likely to be limited to existing Framework suppliers only and will miss the opportunity to engage with the wider consultancy market.


Using the CCS frameworks as a route to market for procuring government consultancy services is unsurprising. What is surprising is the Playbook mentions ‘in scope’ organisation should use several CCS MCF frameworks but not the CCS DPS framework. The Playbook also states it supports SMEs, so why not use the DPS framework which will contain many of the SMEs? Perhaps the Playbook authors were unaware that the renewed MCF CCS frameworks have in fact reduced the number of suppliers in each lot, thus reducing supplier diversity.


Disaggregating Large Inter Disciplinary Consultancy Contracts


The Playbook identifies the need to disaggregate large mixed requirements into suitable works packages. This would appear to be opposing the ‘in-vogue’ delivery partner models where a client procures a single multidisciplinary consultant to manage all its needs. The Playbook says there are several benefits to this approach including:


· Needs are well matched to firm’s capabilities and expertise,

· To facilitate diversity of thought,

· Avoid over-reliance on one firm,

· Provide better access for smaller suppliers, and

· Allows government to plan to transition to internal capacity at the right time.

All valid points, but how does the Playbook recommend in-scope organisations achieve this? There is no advice on this point, but clearly a start could be made by reviewing consultancy services to establish:

1. Can the services naturally be disaggregated?

2. What capability is needed to manage multiple suppliers?

3. How will collaboration be incentivised?

Without the right capability and capacity in place for the in-scope organisation to package-manage several smaller consultancy contracts – and an appropriately sized central government budget allocated to it – the alternative can only be to aggregate the packages into something more suitable for a multi-disciplinary firm to deliver it. Again though, if the government is trying to build its own consulting capability this will be a more realistic probability in the future.

Until then, in-scope organisations will struggle to be able to attain the type of value add the Playbook wants to achieve, which according to the Playbook is “by securing subject matter experts in specific sectors…not the generic advice that is available from the market, which is often more expensive than the real experts”.


Overall, the Playbook, is a step in the right direction, should be seen as good practice for the public sector and a positive change if it can be delivered upon. We also believe ‘in-scope’ organisations will still need the ongoing support of the consultancy sector to help get them there but, at Procur3d, we recognise innovation will be the currency of consultants in the future.

For more details on the consultancy services and what we can offer in developing client-side specifications, take a look at our services page or contact us at info@procur3d.com.

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