Use me effectively, and don

Yes, I am a consultant, and yes, I work for one of the big-name, high-end consulting firms, and yes, my fees are in the hundreds of dollars per hour.

Now for some of us in the industry, what I’ve just said is roughly equivalent to admitting that I’m in league with the devil, that I steal candy from little kids, or that I have a fondness for velvet Elvis paintings.

The facts are that people and organizations do need us (and badly, in many cases), that the great majority of the time we do good work that returns many times the value of our fees, and that we’re busier than ever, so we’re not going away any time soon.

At some point in time your organization may need our advice and expertise (I specialize in project management, in case you wondered) and if you do there are ways to make sure that our working relationship is as successful, efficient, and cost-effective as possible.

In the interests of your money, my ulcer and our mutual success, let me offer a few suggestions.

Suggestion 1: Give some structured thought to what it is you want before you call me in. The first written definition of your problem probably shouldn’t appear in my proposal letter.

I certainly can, as an example, come in to your organization at your request and do an analysis of what’s wrong (if anything) with the way your organization plans and executes projects, but the fact is that you probably already know what’s wrong, and you’d be better to spend your money with me on fixing things than in reiterating problems. That being said, be aware that I’ll be looking for root causes rather than just the symptoms that some in your organization might see.

Fixing things with you (we prefer to do things with you, less often for you, and God forbid that we ever do anything to you) is where we can leverage our experience across industries, tie into a global network of expertise in our organization, and compare and contrast your situation with that of dozens of our other clients, in order to come up with the best solution.

Suggestion 2: If you’re just calling us in to assess blame for a failed project (“We already know who screwed up, we just want your independent assessment to back us up”) I’d suggest that you save your money.

Make the investment if you’re really prepared to learn something from a bad project experience, and if your organization has a genuine intent to drive learning into the organization and make things better on a go-forward basis.

If your organization is simply looking to cast blame, there’s usually a lot to go around, you don’t need to pay us to point fingers.

Along the same line, if you’re asking us in to make observations and recommendations that would be politically sensitive for someone inside the organization to make, recognize that your hesitancy to speak frankly to each other can get expensive.

And despite what you may think, we’re usually politically neutral. We’re not there to simply support the views of the person who pays our bills – if we did that our reputation would melt faster than the Wicked Witch of the West in a rainstorm.

Suggestion 3: Expect to get what you pay for, and recognize that getting the best people on short notice for short periods of time usually means paying a premium.

If I’m on my way home from Halifax late Friday night, for example, and you call and tell me that you need me to attend a meeting with your executive group in Vancouver on Monday morning, recognize that: I’ll have to defer/reschedule anything that I already had scheduled for Monday, and this is especially tricky if I have another client or clients to keep happy that day as well; I’m not likely to discount my rates, unless this work is part of a larger engagement for my organization; and the expenses will be considerable, as cheap flights aren’t usually available on short notice

Although this is the kind of work we do every week – it’s why we’re there, it’s why you hire us – recognize that this type of service doesn’t tend to come cheap.

A couple of weeks ago I was with a client who was complaining about the inconsistency, variable quality and lack of consistency he was seeing among the wide variety of local independent IT contractors he had in place.

“Some are great, some aren’t so great,” he said. “They all have different contracts that I have to administer, there’s no single point of contact and accountability, and there’s no consistency in the way that they plan and execute projects.” Imagine my surprise.

Then he said to us: “I’ve added up the costs of all these independents and if your organization can give me a single team for the same total price or less, I’ll sign up today.” I don’t think so.

For everything he wanted to see (consistency through a common framework, single-point accountability through a senior person, a single contract, and consistent, excellent people, the best in their areas of expertise, gathered from all over North America) there is a cost, and that cost is certainly higher than that of a collection of local independents.

More on this next time.

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at