The Great Debate: Project Consultant vs. Consulting Firm

By Kellie Newsome, Manager - Client Solutions

Every organization has unique needs. To successfully meet those needs, a solution must be customized. Some situations will require the pre-created playbooks, horsepower and overhead of a large consulting firm. Other instances will call for one-off, hand-picked subject matter experts. The challenge, of course, is to know when you need which – or who – and when.

Business intelligence in this regard is paramount, not only in pairing talent mix with business need, but in blending subject matter expertise with a staffing solution. This is precisely why The Intersect Group created a Business Analytics Center of Excellence, which provides actionable insights based on an organization’s talent data.

To use the popular toolbox metaphor: At first blush, some might assume it would be more powerful and handy to have a power drill on hand. But, if all of your projects are being assembled with nails, a hammer is the more obvious and better tool to have. It’s all about assessing the need and using the right tool – or solution, or firm or person – to get the job done.

The complication with traditional, big consulting practices is that it can be far less obvious whether a screw or a nail is what’s needed to hold everything together. Here I hope to provide some clarity so that you can rule out the power drill when a simple hammer will do.


Key Questions to Ask

When deciding whether to engage an entire consulting firm or a single consultant – a consultant, by the way, is usually sourced by a specialized staffing firm, like The Intersect Group for instance – there are delineations that can be made by asking a few key categorical questions.

  • Project Ownership: Will ownership and direction come from within the organization? Or, are you looking for an outside firm to apply an industry playbook to your challenge?


  • Execution vs. Strategy: Do you need someone to come in and execute a plan and deliver a pre-determined outcome? Or, are you looking for a strategic, architected outline on how to approach your challenge? Note: The latter is oftentimes more theoretical versus delivering on a current need.


  • Subject Matter Expertise: What type of expertise are you looking for? Do you want a subject matter expert, who, by the way, you have the option to retain should there be an ongoing need for their knowledge and skill set? Or, is it that you would like access to a bench of subject matter experts? A bench which may or may not have exactly who you need when you need them but who are a part of a larger firm you would like to retain to receive strategic advice from.


Sourcing the Right Solution

The talent ecosystem is multi-dimensional and growing more diverse by the day. While this presents immense opportunity for buyers of these services, it also introduces more confusion. It is no longer high volume, low skill staffing versus high cost, strategic consulting. Instead, there are customizable solutions that sit somewhere in between and combine niche industry expertise with the flexible on-demand model so many organizations have found value in. The modern-day staffing solution is built to provide subject matter expertise where, when and how an organization needs it without compromising quality and experience. Again, business analytics play a critical part here.

There will, of course, always be situations that justify the time, cost and oversight of a big consulting firm, but not every high skill, strategic project requires it. Here is how to know who to call and when.

  Consulting Firm Project Consultant
Project Ownership The consulting firm is the project owner The client company is the project owner
Payment Payment is made at predetermined milestones in the project Payment is based on hours worked and is made on an ongoing, weekly basis
Use Case For advisory services-type needs, where the firm develops findings, conclusions and recommendations for client consideration and decision making For supplemental consulting needs and subject matter expertise – project-based or ongoing – including clean-up work, process mapping and translating for the business
Level of Experience A mix of junior- and senior-level consultants; availability depends on who is on bench Targeted experience based on need; recruited for the specific role, responsibilities and client
Intellectual Property Amassed industry playbook, which leaves when the firm is no longer engaged Consultants can be retained full-time or provide detailed documentation for handover


Partnering with a local, specialized staffing firm can deliver the consultative expertise a project requires without the expensive price tag of retaining an entire consulting firm. It’s both skill and experience at a flexible price.

The Intersect Group has taken this one step further by creating a Center of Excellence operating at the intersection of business analytics and staff augmentation. It’s powerful insights with staffing horsepower. Learn more by going to

If your organization could benefit from the speed, delivery and expertise of a local staffing firm, get in touch. The Intersect Group specializes in the recruitment of IT and finance and accounting professionals