Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Modern Consulting vs. Classic Consulting: Part 1

Welcome back, all you graphanatics (oooh, I like that term; think I'll use it more, even though this post isn't about graphs)!

In my last post, I'd mentioned that BHS Consultants is an "IT/technology consulting firm"; I also mentioned that I'd discuss why this is a challenging label for a company such as ours.

Over the next couple posts, I'll be taking you through a more detailed examination of why that label is a challenging one for our company by way of comparing and contrasting what I call "classic consulting" and "modern consulting".

(I fully expect some people to disagree, and, as always, I welcome any/all constructive feedback and opinions.)

Classic Consulting

Classic consulting typically consists of offering expert knowledge to those companies that need to improve/implement a process, reduce/eliminate existing problems and challenges, and/or otherwise lend guidance to expertly guide a project.

Notice the emphasis on process and advice; there is no actual implementation work or "getting your hands dirty" in that respect.  (Peter Block, author of Flawless Consulting long-time consultant, hammers this point home in his book.)

Now I'm sure some (if not many) out there will either take exception or outright disagree with my definition above, and that's fine.  It lends credence to the fact that even classic consulting is a difficult animal to clearly define.

There's also the associated stigma that has traditionally been associated with the business of consulting.

We've all heard this one before.

And believe me, I've come across my fair share of other consultants that would do little but state the obvious and prolong any problem/contract for as long as they could in order to bill for more hours.

Personally (and professionally), I believe if you're not adding significant value as a consultant, then you have no place doing the job.

"Modern" Consulting

Not to be confused with Activision's Modern Warfare video game series.

In his book The Consulting Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Create and Expand a Seven-Figure Consulting PracticeDr. Alan Weiss (a very successful consultant in his own right) states--for all intents and purposes--that consulting is a "noble" profession and if you're another set of hands helping on a project (again, actually "getting your hands dirty" with implementation), then you're not a real consultant.

So we now have two authors and extremely successful consultants who have clearly stated their definition of what consulting is (and is not).

I'm going to rock the boat a bit here and say the following:
Modern consulting has adapted to meet the increasing demands of clients and must continue to do so in order to remain relevant and useful.
To be clear, I'm not saying that the principles and hallmarks of classic consulting are moot and no longer relevant; far from it, in fact.  Modern consulting builds off much of the foundation of classic consulting.  In essence, modern consulting expands the purview of classic consulting and removes many of the traditional boundaries between advising clients and actually performing implementation.

At the heart of consulting, to be sure, as many experts have written (including both Mr. Block and Dr. Weiss), is to have your advice actually used.

This definition of modern consulting is especially true in the field of IT and other technology-based fields (of which there are an ever-increasing number).

Consider this: You're put in charge of a large project to implement a new internal business process that is to be heavily automated, and you (and your superiors) know that no one in the organization has the know-how or experience to approach this project on his/her own, let alone the manpower to actually carry out the implementation.  What's more is that you're given a deadline (as is usually the case; how far in the future the deadline is doesn't factor in) and a budget (as is also usually the case).

As the person in charge of this project, you clearly want to do the job well and make a big impression on your superiors (there could be a bonus, a raise, or a promotion in it for you).

The best way to make such an impression is to achieve the following goals:
  1. Complete the project on-time.
  2. Complete the project within (and preferably well under) the budget.
  3. Complete the project with a high degree of quality.
(In my experience, in the worst case, if such a person can only achieve one of those goals, it'll usually be #2 as it's easier to make a good impression when you're able to point to a contribution to the bottom-line.  This is unfortunate, but sometimes necessary and it does happen more frequently than it should; remember, as consultant--classic or modern--your job is to get your client to listen to you.  If they don't, then there's little you can do about it, and you have to be prepared to accept that.)

I think we're all familiar with this model.

So, you have choices--some of them less desirable/applicable than others.

  1. Find and take on an internal staff (either full-time or contract) including both SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) and implementors.
  2. Find and contract a knowledgeable consultant to advise on the project and then either field a staff to implement or contract out the work to another firm.
  3. Find and contract a knowledgeable "one-stop shop" that has both the SMEs needed and the manpower to carry out the plan/advice from the SME(s).
There may be more options, but these are traditionally the three decision-makers and senior managers are faced with.

Next Time...
In the next post, we'll examine these three options in more detail.

(If my blog had a cool "Next Time, on the Mad Grapher" teaser trailer, I'd insert it right here.)

See you next time!


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