Sunday, October 16, 2005

Is there such a thing as consultant malpractice?

I am wondering if Zena and I may be accidently working ourselves into a niche as Cleaners. That is, consultants who come in and clean up after other consultants.

Seriously, I don't consider myself the Goddess's gift to management consulting. I have colleagues whom I consider to be truly gifted. I know, what the hell is a gifted management consultant? Well, there's J, who has an enviable ability to turn heaps of information into creative, clear and compelling presentations. There's B, who can extemporaneously come up with an analogy, metaphor or mental model that is instantly helpful for any thinking style. And there's Zena's laserlike ability to focus people on the most critical issues, no matter how muddy they seemed just a moment before. I, on the other hand - I'm more of a jack-of-many-trades, mistress of none.

But we've recently seen a couple examples of consultant work that - well, let's just say that if I EVER produce anything like that, may I be forced to leave the country and change my name out of shame.

So there are a couple situations (and I'm not naming anything, so don't make any assumptions about who I might be talking about, you locals!) where somebody else's work needs to be done over, properly. At that point, the potential client is a little desperate - they have a deadline with a funder, or a board, or some important constituency, and they're about to have egg on their face. There's only so much we can do on such a tight timeline, we say. That's fine! they say, knowing that we will produce more in two weeks than the last guy did in two months. How do they know that? Because nobody could possibly produce less.

And, because we are conscientious. We may say "we don't have time to do a thorough job," but if the question is important, and significant decisions are going to be made as a result of the work - well, we do the legwork required to get an answer we feel good about. How can we do otherwise in good conscience?

I've come to believe this is the mark of a good consultant. I once had one working for me who was discounting his rate considerably for a good cause, and he kept saying "I'm not satisfied with this answer yet, I want to do X analysis first." And, being a consultant myself, I'd say, "That's fine, but you know, it's out of scope." Out of scope or scope creep are consultant-speak for "work outside the subject-matter or time that I bid for this gig." But he'd do it anyway, because it was necessary to get an answer he felt good about. You either eat the hours, or you cut back on some other aspect of the project, or maybe if you're lucky you can renegotiate with the client. But you don't just hand in crappy work.

As I think about it, all the colleagues that I think really, really highly of - they all take this approach.

I don't really want to get typecast as a Cleaner, and ideally the job would never be necessary. But Jiminy is it possible to create such a meaningless spreadsheet?

1 comment:

Newsandseduction said...

you write so well!