A while ago, I ran out for lunch with a new client. Nothing special just a local diner. I ordered a club sandwich and he ordered a double cheeseburger, extra large fries and a small diet coke. There are about 450 calories in a double cheeseburger, 540 calories in an extra large fries and either 97 or 1 calorie for a small regular or diet coke respectively. The lunch choices are therefore:
– 1087 Calories (with regular Coke)
– 991 Calories (with diet Coke)
Both meals are the cholesterol/caloric equivalent of a Scotch Egg, perhaps the world’s most unhealthy meal and a Scottish tradition. (An egg , wrapped in sausage meat, breaded and deep fried) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotch_egg
So I was perhaps a little curious with the drink selection and tried to be tactful by stating; “ I always like the taste of Diet Coke better myself too..”. “Not me” was his reply, “I like regular coke but I have to keep breakfast and lunch meals together under 1,000 calories and I skipped breakfast today”.
The choice of the Diet Coke was an explicit decision, that had involved research, analysis and the application of rules. If I hadn’t investigated a bit, I would have just shook my head, laughed a bit and would not have found something about my client that turned out to be very important. He always, always made decisions based on analysis and rules.
Consulting is a process with lots of steps. When we miss steps, there is inherent danger in completing the engagement safely. Even when the steps seem to be too simple to do, if we do them anyway two things can happen:
- we might learn something we did not know and perhaps assumed differently
- we can continuously improve the process, but only have that opportunity if we actually do the steps.
Most IT consultants incorrectly engage when the problem has been defined, the solution has been offered and what is required is execution. It misses two very critical steps at the beginning of the process.
The Entry Stage
The aim of the Entry Stage is to develop and agree to a stable, balanced and workable set of arrangements with the client. These arrangements provide the basis for an effective working relationship throughout the consultancy project. You have clarity about how you are going to work together and the process to get to the end. You use this stage to develop rapport with your client, find out what their concerns are and learn a little bit about how they work. (you can find out a lot about a person from a Diet Coke)
The Diagnosis Stage
The aim of the Diagnosis Stage is to identify the real problem. In other words, the source of your client’s problems not just some of the effects of the real problem. Most importantly to make sure your client has not incorrectly identified the problem.
An example perhaps.
A consulting company (the other guys) was engaged to implement a high availability solution for a customer as sporadic outages were occurring. The HA system was implemented and outages continued to occur on both primary and fail-over environments. Actual cause: Sporadic testing of DR generators altered power supply to the SAN serving this cluster, causing disk timeouts and application failures. The main servers were plugged into an advanced UPS which cleaned the power supply, the SAN was errantly not and was subject to sporadic failures during the tests. Question: Was the client happy with their new $1 million HA infrastructure and “the other guys”…. No. not at all.
So before you start on the next consulting engagement, add two steps. Spend some time with your client mapping out the process, get to know how they work and bit about them. Then diagnose or re-diagnose the problem or task. Make certain you are fixing the right thing.
Neither of these steps need to take very long. They just need to be done to strive for excellence.