The three faces of consulting


A great consultant is not two-faced but three-faced. In the above picture you should see a young lady, an older lady and a man with a mustache. It is still one picture though. A great consultant needs to be able to adapt to his or her client’s preferred consulting model.   There are three possible models for any engagement.

Expertise Model


This model is task based.  For this model to work effectively your client must have:

1. Diagnosed the problem correctly.

2. Correctly identified your capabilities to provide the service.

3. Correctly communicated to you the problem and the nature of the expertise required.

4. Thought through and accepted the potential consequences of defining the problem and service themselves.

Example: The client wants database performance optimized. They have therefore decided it is a database not application problem, they have decided the areas that could be optimized and they have decided that the right skill set is a database internist who will change configurations to get better performance. They have also decided how long this exercise will be and set expectations for the amount of improvement that can be gained for the time and money invested. They have no expectation that you will identify and assist with anything beyond the scope of work defined.

Doctor-Patient Model


The client can describe symptoms of a problem that have led them to believe that something is wrong. The have trust that by engaging the doctor that you will correctly identify the root cause and make the symptoms go away, however that is accomplished.

For this model to work effectively the following criteria must be true:

1. The diagnostic process must be seen as helpful and the client must let you do it.  They must not want just the symptoms treated.

2. Your client must have correctly identified the sick area.

3. The people in the sick area must be likely to reveal information relevant to making a valid diagnosis.

4. Your client must be able to understand and correctly interpret your diagnosis and be able to implement your prescription/advice.

Example:  Staying with the example above. The client has slow performance for it’s end-users. It could be network, application, database or middleware related. The client can identify symptoms. (“This transaction takes 10-15 seconds”) They have described the symptom but indicated to you “Doc, I need this application to go faster in the 1-3 second range for those transactions”.  The client will provide access to network, application, database, middleware people and resources required to do a diagnosis and just want it fixed.

Process Consultation Model


For this model to work the following assumptions must be met:

1. Your client is in pain and does not know the source of the pain or what to do about it.

2. Your client does not know what kind of help may be available or which consultant can provide the kind of help that may be needed.

3. The nature of the problem is such that your client needs help to figure out what is wrong and will benefit from participating in making the diagnosis.

4. Your client is motivated by goals and values that you respect and will accept your help.

Client – Consultant Model Challenges

Many consultants work in an “Expertise” model only. They expect to be told what to do, when to do it and have no stake in overall success of the client’s endeavor. If it fails, it wasn’t within their scope or control.

Here are some classic model failures.

  • The client has a performance issue and incorrectly diagnoses the problem as being a database optimization issue. The consultant is engaged, optimizes what is possible and the overall system performance is still poor.  A doctor-patient or process consultation model may have been a better model.
  • The client identifies that they are “sick”, performance is bad. The consultant only offers to tune the database.
  • The client wants to work with the consultant to work through the problem but the consultant just wants to “fix-it”.

Mismatches in models can easily cause any engagement to fail, no matter how technically skilled the consultant is.

In addition to what you know, the client is even more concerned over how you work with them.

Learn how to discern how your client wants to work with you.

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1 Response to The three faces of consulting

  1. Pingback: Infinite Shades of Grey – A year later and a little greyer | Infinite Shades of Grey

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