In my book Infinite Shades of Grey: Advanced Consulting, I propose a paradigm for consulting based on the understanding that the client’s problem can never be defined completely in black and white. The process used or desired is neither black nor white. The solution desired is not black nor white and the solution delivered will be neither black nor white. Bad consultants see the problem, process and solution in black and white. They know exactly what’s wrong, exactly how to fix it and exactly what needs to be delivered. The world is filled with bad consultants. That is why over 80% of all IT projects fail to meet the original business objectives and why today business leaders mistrust the claims and projections of new initiatives. The result of this is that many organizations miss the opportunity to innovate, miss the opportunity to drive faster and further beyond their competitors and miss the opportunity to truly optimize their business.
When you have a “grey” problem, you ask more questions, you dig more, you look for not one but many potential causes of the problem. When you have a “grey” process, you are open to better ideas, flexible and adaptable. When you have a “grey” solution , you introduce more possibilities, you test more ideas, you measure more carefully and you adapt the solution.
There is an old adage; “The customer is always right.”
Nonsense. The customer is talking to a consultant because they don’t have the answers. There is a also a very high probability that they did not ask all the right questions either before coming to the conclusion that they needed “x”. Bad consultants deliver “x”. The customer is therefore assured to get what they asked for, but it’s really too bad if they didn’t get what they really needed. The answer is always grey. Sometimes a different shade applied to “x” takes it from ok to excellent and sometimes you find that it wasn’t “x” at all and the customer needs “y” something quite different. Which consultant will be asked back the second time; the one that delivered “x” or the one that gave the customer what they really needed?
An example. A large systems integrator was bidding to build self-serve kiosks that would include the function to issue license plate renewal stickers. The client specified in the design that their customers must be able to print stickers up to 2 months in advance, during the renewal month and 1 month after the renewal period. Each month had pre-printed stickers with the month and year emblazoned on the sticker, the printer added a serial number. The kiosk would therefore require the usual touch screen, cash equipment and electronic card equipment plus storage space for 4 reels of stickers and 4 printers. Each month the reels would be moved as the new sticker reel was added and the last month’s removed. The client has done this process in the DMV office for years but wanted self-service options now.
A bad consultant would build the system as the client requested.
An excellent consultant would suggest an alternate approach where a single blank stock of stickers was used, a single printer used that could securely print the month, year and the serial number on the sticker and there would be no requirement to change the stock except for refills dramatically lowering the operations and maintenance cost of the solution.
Only one company responded to this RFP with a “grey” response. They are now the vendor for the State of Nevada DMV and the other states that followed their lead.