Reality Bites in Consulting

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An optimist, a pessimist and a cynic went into a restaurant. On the table waiting were three partially filled glasses of water. The optimist said “look my glass is half full! “and took a drink. The pessimist said “Look my glass is  half empty!” and took a drink. The cynic said “my glass is probably filled with toxic city tap water” and refused to drink at first but then relented and tentatively took a drink.  The waiter came by and said “Here let me clear those dirty glasses out of the way for you, wipe the table and get you some menus”.

A client does not benefit from a consultant being an optimist, pessimist nor a cynic. An excellent consultant is just like the waiter …  a realist.

One of the most common errors that consultants make is to gauge the success of the engagement by the momentary happiness or grumpiness  of the their client. The client may be too optimistically viewing the engagement, oblivious to its challenges or a client may have unwarranted pessimism. Both of these positions can potentially provide an incorrect reading which in itself is harmless until the consultant uses it as their own barometer of engagement success.

All consulting engagements have a  lifecycle and in the lifecycle there are inflection points where the complexity, risk and quality of execution varies.  Experience yields a well-worn pattern for most types of engagements.

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I have seen too many consultants take their clients to the proverbial peak of a mountain during a blueprint stage and thrill them with a future view from the executive charter helicopter. The view from the finished building on that mountain peak will be stunning! The consultants rarely mention the challenges of dragging the building materials up the side of the mountain. While it is not critical that the client understand the project lifecycle and tasks in detail, it is certainly important that the consultant does and also for the consultant to make sure they are  able to communicate to their client that the initial helicopter ride was just that… sightseeing.

Project reality bites. Depending on how realistic you have kept your plans and communicated those plans to your client, the bites will either be small nips that don’t cause major changes in the planned route and speed or they will be  full-on wounds that require intensive care and leave a lasting scar on your client relationship.

It’s great to have a happy client early in a project but true success depends the consultant’s own assessment of the current state and future project challenges to make sure a realistic plan is in place and the client is pleased with the final outcome not just the beginning.

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