Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Like any other profession, we have our share of incompetents, hucksters, and snake-oil salesmen. However, I've run into more intelligent, hard-working, thoughtful EA consultants in my career than the former. I'm proud to call these folks friends as well as colleagues, even when we're competing for the same piece of business or disagree on professional and technical issues.
One of the reasons I became a consultant rather than an employee is that I've always had an independent streak about me, and that manifests itself in my work. This is particularly evident in my continuous challenging of the status quo, the ways "things have always been done" in organizations, and looking for new techniques, methods, and other things of value and interest.
The consulting business (both technical and business) exists for one reason: employees are usually not hired for what they know how to do, or what they have the potential of doing, or how great their grasp of technology or management is. They're hired because they will, or appear to, fit into the corporate culture of the organization. After they start working, they are assimilated into the corporate collective and lose a bit of perspective on the issues confronting them, their group, and their management. A lot of decision-making is made on the basis of being politically safe about one's position rather than sound technical or business principles.
Consultants are brought in by managers to, hopefully, rock the boat, not being constrained to the corporate culture. Of course, they are also brought in to advance other management agendas (the "two Bob's" consultants in the movie Office Space are a prime example). The ability to positively influence the status quo is a big reason I became a consultant.
I always recommend that an organization's EA always be managed and accounted for by employees. While consultants can be brought in to assist, evaluate, and initial drive EA efforts, the ongoing nature of the work makes it obvious that an employee of the organization run it - either right at the beginning or eventually.
Clients must also actively manage the relationship with EA consultants. Hiring them and then going off and leaving them to their own devices is the worst thing clients do. That doesn't mean they have to be actively managed, but the relationship is a two-way street, and clients are paying to have the expertise embedded into their employees and organization. If left on their own, good consultants will certainly give clients their money's worth, but it may not be exactly what the organization expected or needed.
Don't give short-shrift to knowledge transfer when the engagement is drawing to a close. Managers will want their employees assuming roles created and developed during the engagement, and formal transfer is the best way of insuring that knowledge transfer not only take place, but succeeds.
Finally, here is a list of characteristics clients can use to gauge successful consultants that they won't regret retaining:
- Asks deeper and more probing questions as interviews and debriefs progress, in a non-judgemental manner.
- Works well with client employees, especially with employees who are not amused that consultants are suddently present in their workplace.
- Thinks of the client organization, people and goals, rather than the next billable hour. Avoid those that wish to remain on the engagement in perpetuity - its cheaper to hire them an employee...:)
- Understands the limitations of corporate culture, budget constraints, and other factors that drive design, development, and procurement decisions. Works well with what's given to him or her without developing extensive strategies, goals, and wish-lists that are realistically unattainable.
- Plans for the end; i.e. can show you in a short period of time what the end state looks like from the beginning. If they can't, then be aware that the consultants may think they will be camping out in your organization (and billing you for the 'privilege') for a very extended period of time.