When it comes to outsourcing, consulting services aren’t like office supplies that can be farmed out to the lowest bidder. Several other considerations, such as service, credibility and fit with your culture are critical elements that must be weighed. Here we touch on 17 issues:

1. What do you want to accomplish? Quantifiable goals will make the project much easier from start to finish. Make sure that you have consensus on the project or the process to be improved. Get buy-in from your boss, from the safety committee and other stakeholders. Make sure they understand why you are outsourcing this function. “You’re the safety person — can’t you do this?” Explain why. Be honest.

2. Try to get a good feeling about several consultants and their specialties. Look around their Web sites for valuable information such as their experience, education, certification(s) and applicable skills. Check with colleagues or industry associations for recommendations. Narrow the field down to three or four from the information you’ve gleaned thus far.

3. Contact the consultant and interview him or over the phone. Write down a list of questions that you’ve prepared that pertain to your project. By this time, you should already have a good idea of their experience as it relates to your project, but you should also get a feel for what value they will add that will justify the project and make lasting change. What suggestions or innovations would they suggest? Be sure to take notes for reference later when you’re making the decision.

4. Ask for a price range for their services that the consultant can quote you. Consultants these days work on hourly rates, daily rates, project rates and even value rates. If you’ve defined the scope of the work in the beginning stages, you should be able to convey that and get an approximate cost.

5. Will this person be a good fit with your culture and work processes? This is by all means not a popularity contest, but in addition to credibility and expertise, the consultant must bring an attitude of collaboration with them.

6. After the interview, re-read your notes and get a feeling for how you will be presenting these consultants to the decision-makers — the safety committee, the CEO or the plant engineer.

7. Arrange a face-to-face meeting. This will be a good time to bring the consultant up to speed with your needs, process or facility, instead of paying them to do it later. If they ultimately get the project, they will come in the door with some basic knowledge.

8. Communicate your needs. This might be the most critical step in the entire process. Having already defined the scope of your project, make sure the consultant understands it, can commit to it and will quote you a price based on that.

9. Don’t be shocked at the quote. Remember, consultants are selling you their time and expertise. Theoretically, the lion’s share of the money you will be paying them is to find where to drill for oil, not for actually digging the hole.

10. If the quote isn’t what you requested, send it back or put it aside. A consultant who hasn’t addressed your needs during this stage probably will not deliver what you ultimately want.

11. Present the quote to your stakeholders. Don’t give everyone the opportunity to play Monday morning quarterback. Make sure they understand the scope of the project, the need to outsource and the ultimate value of the project.

12. For quotes that are not ultimately chosen, take the time to make a brief call to the consultant to say you’ve decided to go with someone else this time. Keep the lines of communication open, ask them to keep in touch as well as place you on their mailing list.

13. A pre-job conference with the consultant chosen is well worth your time and effort. Make sure you’re both on the same page and that their understanding and enthusiasm for the project have not changed.

14. Clear your schedule and take the time to attend, observe and participate in as much of the project as possible. Give feedback to the consultant during the process and changes or small tweaks can be made, if necessary.

15. Get timely feedback from those who benefited from the consultant’s work. For example, if training was conducted, course evaluations should be filled out. Analyze them and give the consultant feedback.

16. Prepare a debriefing for stakeholders of the project. How does the project stand to benefit the culture? How about short- and long-term cost savings?

17. Continue to measure effectiveness through auditing, obtaining feedback and watching the numbers throughout the life of the project. This information can be invaluable when it comes around to the next project cycle.