There was a shepherd looking after his sheep on the side of a deserted road. Suddenly a brand new Audi screeches to a halt. The driver, a man dressed in an Armani suit, Cerutti shoes, Ray-Ban sunglasses, TAG-Heuer wrist-watch and a Pierre Cardin tie, gets out and asks the shepherd: "If I can tell you how many sheep you have, will you give me one of them?"
The shepherd looks at the young man, and then looks at the large flock of grazing sheep and replies: "Okay."
The young man parks the car, connects his laptop to the 3G network uploads the exact location data using his GPS, downloads live images from a NASA weather satellite, opens a database and Excel tables filled with data mining algorithms and pivot tables, then prints out a report on his high-tech mini-printer. He turns to the shepherd and says, "You have exactly 1,586 sheep here."
The shepherd cheers, "That’s correct, you can have your sheep." The young man makes his pick and puts it in the passenger seat of his Audi.
The shepherd looks at him and asks: "If I guess your profession, will you return my animal to me?"
The young man answers, "Yes, why not?"
The shepherd says, "You are an IT consultant."
"How did you know?" asks the young man shocked.
"Very simple," answers the shepherd. "First, you came here without being asked by me. Second, you charged me a fee to tell me something I already knew, and third, you don’t understand anything about my business… Now can I have my dog back?"
If we are not careful, it can happen all too easily.
You came here without being asked.
Well not really, we are always asked but the first person we meet day one may or may not have had our purpose, intent , expected outcomes communicated to them or communicated clearly enough. Often another person may be our client but our area of work may be somewhere different. (ie. Hired by the CIO but engaged to work with the Manager of Architecture). It’s a simple enough problem to avoid. Day 1 ensure that you always, always:
- communicate who you are
- why you are there
- get appropriate permissions from them for the area of engagement
- discuss the expected outcomes
- discuss the roles and expected participation of the team you are working with
- engage the sponsoring client to set the internal expectations and expected role.
You are telling me something I already know.
In some cases as consultants we are contracted to provide a second opinion and may very well be producing an analysis that corroborates the knowledge and findings of the internal team. The critical factor in engagements of that nature is to acknowledge it. Make sure that the internal team knows that you are respecting their findings and note it in your communication. I recently engaged with a major client where the client’s team was stellar. In most areas being investigated they had already thoroughly analyzed and put in place world-class best practices or had them in the plans. What I then did with the engagement was acknowledge that fact and broaden the engagement into other areas that were not as deeply covered. I made certain that the local team was acknowledged for their fine work and got their support in the other areas of investigation.
In cases where the client may think they know the answer, but actually do not, it requires more finesse on the part of the consultant. Our job in that case is to reframe and influence their thinking to a new viewpoint but also to not embarrass them or directly denigrate their position. Check out my blogs on Mastering the Art of Influence for some tips and techniques.
You don’t understand anything about my business.
This is a common and realistic complaint from clients. Too often the IT consultant brings technical skills only and has not done enough research to develop knowledge in the client’s domain. The excellent consultant will not only have technical expertise, but they will understand the client’s domain as well. Are you going to work in Healthcare? You need to understand privacy and security for Healthcare. Technical skills alone are not enough. Most decisions are more subtle than between a dog and a sheep but you don’t want to hear…
Can I have my dog back?