The do’s and don’ts when engaging consultants Part II

In part II we take a look at the common mistakes when using consultants. This is all common sense and well documented in literature and on line. So why does it go wrong so often? Politics and just not caring (I just work here dude) often in combination with “fake it until you make it”. Follow this link for Part I

Common Mistakes

Buying advice to settle a score

Now please all acts as grownups! Don’t settle your disagreements this way. One side will feel defeated, the other victorious with a vengeance. Great start for a project that depends on collaboration<SARCASM>. What if the result of such advice is very mixed with lots of pros and cons on both sides? Then what? You’re doomed. No agreement, no common goals, no purpose or will to cooperate. You are now riding a dead horse. Guess what? You are not going to get anywhere 🙂 What your team really needs people, is a coach!

Bait & Switch

So the guru walks in, explains with great passion and knowledge the solution and how to achieve it. You make the deal. You are very happy to have such a highly skilled operator to take care of your interests. But soon after the project starts the guru is nowhere to be found. Some pimple faced youths and a washed up senior are handling your case. What the hell happened? Will things work out? Sure the guru will present the finished project which has taken too long, isn’t as trouble free as it should be and was rather hard going the entire time. Well, nothing that can’t be fixed on a follow up consulting engagement, right? This is the oldest trick in the book. They trained their young potentials at your expense and now know which ones can’t hack it. You’ve become the free university for the consulting firm. Avoid this at all cost. Agree on who will do the work. Fix those numbers and names so you get the people you signed up for.

Giving away your business

Well those IT people are a tough crowd. They are opinionated and don’t communicate to well. Hell those guys & gals prefer to work with machines! They are not up to speed with what is politically correct or fashionable, hate faking, can’t stand save asses and don’t tolerate kiss asses. Good IT people live by the sword and die by the sword. It’s all very direct. Either their solution works or it doesn’t. You can’t hide behind reports, gold plated words or lies when you work in IT. The evidence is there every single second of every single day, staring you right in the face. So basically it’s no wonder that weak management and incompetent employees can’t get along with them very well, they are a bit to direct. So why not get rid of that problem? Get some consultants to do all that IT stuff. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how courteous they are, well willing and facilitating. Sure it cost a bundle but hey, life seems good. Then your best IT people leave (physically or mentally) and your worst just hang around for the paycheck. No worries, no one is indispensible and firm X has more consultants for you! And so, slowly but surely, you become completely dependent on very expensive external staff and what you thought was consulting for your company has turned into a money generating market for a body shop that generates revenue by sending you their juniors to be trained at your expense. Congratulations, you fucked up big time. Your organization is now nothing more than a cash cow. When you no longer produce the gold, you get slaughtered. Game over.

Instead of outsourcing you should have invested in the IT team. Train them, communicate with them, be honest about projects and listen to them when they tell you it won’t work. They don’t do that to piss you off but because they think you’re making a mistake. Get rid of the idiots and assholes (they shouldn’t be there in the first place) and take care of your key IT personnel. They are hard to come by. Get external help from consultants where and when needed, but don’t hand over your business to them. If you do, you lose everything.

Buying the wrong stuff from the wrong people

This one seems so easy to avoid … Don’t buy the advice on what to buy from the company that sells the products. Don’t buy CRM services from a hardware company. Don’t let the marketing guys write software. What kind of switch will Cisco advise you to buy? Think about your interests and those of the vendors. Make sure they align. Buy where you get the best deal for your needs. Get the right expertise from the right experts.

Not knowing what you buy

You’ve seen the possible consulting engagements already.

· Advice

· Implementation

· Coaching

· Skills Acquisition

Now decide what you need and communicate this very clearly. Make sure everyone understands what is expected. Put it in writing. That way there will be no surprises such as getting an advice about e-mail infrastructures instead of a functioning Exchange 2007 system like you taught you’d get .

Buying efforts instead of results

Efforts are commendable, nothing more. They are not the desired outcome. It really doesn’t matter how much time, work, people, and resources you throw against a problem. The only things that matters are the achieved results. Buying efforts is a great way to make a consulting firm very wealthy. It’s usually the result of ill defined scopes, not getting clearly defined deliverables in writing and bad project management. The worst type of this mistake is “consultants” who start churning. Those bastards give true consultants a bad name. In essence this is fraud. They steal time and as such money by doing unnecessary work, prolonging issues or problems to augment the billable time, etc. Never forget that our economy a society is fueled by bull shit. Half of the consultants are selling just that. Hire the other half. Don’t feel bad if you’re a consultant, what do you think permanent staff sells half of the time? Right!

Falling in love with the misuse of “methodologies”

Sometimes both clients and consultant firms fall in love with methodologies or make mistake manuals for methodologies. They focus so much on the methodology everything else becomes secondary to it. This often has a couple reasons. One of them is that a lot of businesses lie when they say their personnel are their biggest capital or most important asset. They hate the fact that they are dependent on specific people and skill sets. It’s way too risky and expensive. They want to modularize people like parts of a car. If it’s broken, replace it with an identical one. The other reason is that talent doesn’t scale very well. This is quite normal, people just don’t scale. Talent needs to be cultivated and that takes time and effort. Performing complex tasks to produce high quality results takes talent. This makes things expensive as availability to talent is limited and thus growth is stalled.

So we’re in trouble here. We can’t attract enough talent and the bean counters insist on reproducible identical drones (“Human Resources”), which is impossible to achieve. So the solution consultancy firms come up with is the misuse of methodologies as a religion. They create guide lines, methodologies, scripts etc. You see, one way people try to scale talent is by creating a cookbook the “less talented” to follow. But books don’t make an excellent cook! This is because talent cannot be methodized completely. This is a farce. In the end it leads to mediocre firms, run by mediocre people producing mediocre products. Talented and motivated people will use methodologies correctly when and where appropriate. But they have also learned to be creative and the use of experience combined with knowledge and guts allows them to produce excellent results. Joel Spolsky did a great write up about this in Big Macs vs. The Naked Chef on his web site (

Now methodologies are useful when used correctly! But focusing on them where talent and creativity are needed will only drive the talent away or in hiding. Is this what you hired consultants to do? Is your organization in such a bad shape? Do you really have that many people on the payroll that are not capable of performing their jobs? Next thing you’ll be buying innovation and creativity as process from those same consultants.


Good consultants can and will help you to realize well defined, complex and important goals. However, before engaging consultants, you need to be aware of the pitfalls. Know what consultancy can and cannot do for you given the circumstances of your organization and your needs. Using consultants for mere staff augmentation is not a good idea. Good consultants know this and act upon it. You need to be smart, proactive and involved in selecting and working with consultancy firms. You just can’t expect to hire some consultants, lay back in your easy chair and hope all will be well from that moment on. Far from it, that attitude will only lead to more and very expensive problems.

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