When to Get a Planning Consultant

December 22nd, 2017

One of the most predictable things I experience is the reaction of someone who asks what I do for a living. When I say that I work with a company that helps local government leaders, the response inevitably includes a list of complaints about their city/county which is accompanied by eyes that roll so hard they get dizzy. This generates an important question: if normal people think that government doesn’t work well, and if elected people are listening to the normal people, then why is it so hard for them to ask for help?

When normal people ask government people why they don’t get help, they will get one or more of the standard responses that usually relate to the availability of funding and time. What the government people don’t understand is that they are actually saying that they don’t recognize their real need to make the solution a priority.


Planning consultants are the solution for those that recognize that the opportunity cost of doing the same thing is greater than the cost of trying something that could produce a better result.

  1. You are working at full capacity, and it’s still not enough. “Trying harder” is one of the most common prequels to failure. (Reference those January resolutions). Planning should be an iterative process, but developing the baseline plan requires focused attention for a limited period of time.
  2. You need a new (or another) perspective. Existing staff obviously have local knowledge, but no one has credible expertise in everything. Planning consultants are able to form flexible teams that have experience looking at the local issue in different ways. Further, outside consultants can add credibility to difficult conclusions that the existing staff already knows but is struggling to implement. (I’ve always committed to be the one that ‘catches the spears’ if the idea isn’t received well by the public or council).
  3. You decide to have the courage to implement. Dwight Eisenhower is famously quoted as saying that “plans are worthless, but planning is everything”. All planners know that there is real value in the discovery/development process, but if a plan doesn’t result in a visible change, then the plan will not be valued by those that weren’t involved in the activity. You will likely be more ready to drive potentially hard decisions if you didn’t come-up with them yourself.


I have some ideas…
The ideal planning contractor isn’t one that pretends to have all the answers, it’s the one that understands how to listen well enough to get them.

At the end of the day, it takes leadership to make a positive impact. Wise leaders recognize their limits and still find ways to move forward. They also understand that they get what they pay for.