Rob Lawrence wrote a useful field guide to help you identify whether you’re dealing with a consultancy or a body shop:
What are the differences between a consultancy and a “body shop”? No matter what your role in professional services–buyer, seller, or resource–you need to be able to understand how the two differ. Consider:
- If you are a buyer, you need to distinguish between high-value services you should select on the basis of value, and low-level commodity services you can safely select on the basis of price.
- If you are a seller, you need to understand what type of services you are selling and how you are perceived by clients.
- If you are a resource, you need to understand the type of organization you are working for and how the organization will impact your career development.
I might quibble with a point or two that Rob makes, or in where he places his emphasis, but in general I think this is dead-on.
A little selective kibbitzing:
The more a firm favors fixed-price engagements that are focused on the achievement of specific results, the closer it is to a true consultancy. If a firm favors time-and-materials billing, whether out of habit or out of worries about “scope creep,” the closer it is to a body shop.
Generally true; however, depending on the nature of the work your firm performs, fixed-price work is not always logistically feasible, and this may not make you any less a high-value consultancy.
And Rob also mentions, as a key factor:
A body shop bills as much of its consultants’ time as possible, all the time. In contrast, a consultancy continually invests time in improving its collective knowledge and performance.
I would add: A high-value consultancy also invests time and money improving the skill-sets of its individual consultants. If the firm you’re working for isn’t interested in your personal and professional development, you’re working for a body shop.
Also posted at Knowledge Work.