Why Consultants Can’t Help You

Written By Patrick Connally

A technology, project management and consulting expert. When I'm not blogging and working, you can catch me searching for the joy in the simple things in life. I love connecting with people, so share your ideas, feedback and criticism...#SpreadLove

Consultants cannot save you.  Sorry to break the news to you.  Sure, they’re smart, they’ll get up early, work late, and work weekends.  They’ll pull in all the subject matter experts from across the globe, but that still won’t solve your problem.  Why? Because the problem is you.

Clients fail to understand their own impact on project success.  You can hire the smartest people in the world, but if you’re standing in their way, they aren’t of much good to you.  Here are the top four reasons consultants can’t help you:

  1. You don’t understand your organization capabilities;
  2. Internal Governance is weak;
  3. There’s a (Lack of) Engaged Leadership a/k/a “Fear of Commitment”; and
  4. You’ve got The Happy Face Syndrome.

Understanding Organizational Capabilities

Understanding Organizational Capabilities

Understanding Organizational Capabilities

Consulting firms are great because they know EXACTLY what their people do! More importantly, they know what they don’t do.  Big 4, and premier, service organizations invest countless effort in both creating, nurturing, cataloging, and optimizing talent.  Whether an experienced, or campus, hire, the amount of precision and skill-management is precise:

  • New-hires are on-boarded and immersed in proprietary boot camps covering core consulting, soft, and technical skillsets. These workshops cover everything from situational awareness and simulated client and working experiences, to more focused technology development.  In fact, this process is so important that firms often invest weeks of time to cultivate these skillsets before exposing them to potential client-facing opportunities.  But, as part of this process, firm leadership often teach at these courses.  It’s a way for them to ‘give back’ to the firm, but it also does one more critical thing: gives them an opportunity to preview the skills and capabilities of new team members.  Every available staff isn’t right for a client.  The smartest and most technically acute resources can be problematic in the wrong client environment.  Knowing who, and knowing what, give leaders a leg up on the right way to staff and build teams for success.
  • Experienced hires are screened relentlessly. It’s not uncommon for more senior level roles to take between four months, and one year to fill.  Understanding skill level and cultural fit at senior leadership roles is a business imperative.  These leaders will be driving and controlling major project activities – you need to be sure they can manage complex clients, effectively lead teams, and communicate effectively.  More importantly, you’ve got to trust them.

Weak Governance

Governance is (sadly, and consistently) undervalued.  Governance are the stop signs at a 4-way stop: everyone expects them to

Weak Technology governance

Weak Technology governance

be there, expects that everyone knows how to navigate the rules of the 4-way stop, but there isn’t anyone managing the stop-and-go.   Pro-tip from a professional consultant: if there’s no team focused on managing project delivery (according to internal project standards or controls), adding consultants to the mix just adds confusion.  The other challenge is reframing the way you think about governance.  Governance is your friend.  Governance represents the rules of the road making sure a bunch of independent drivers can safely get to their destination: when to stop, when to go, what licenses/permits are required, etc.  Absent governance, you’re promoting chaos and accelerating (and potentially increasing) risk into your delivery organization.

Engaged Leadership

Engaged Executive Leadership

Engaged Executive Leadership

Strong, and decisive leadership is required to successfully deliver transformation programs. Studies have indicated that programs with strong executive sponsorship have higher probabilities of success.  But, the reality is that ## of projects still fail (don’t achieve business value, are late, or exceed budget).  These failures often occur because the right leaders aren’t (consistently) engaged.  The executives often delegate to their subordinates who may not have the authority, or knowledge, to determine scope change, resolve issues, manage risk or influenced stakeholders.  If your executive sponsors won’t actively engage to deliver a project, what message does that send to others?

The Happy Face Syndrome

Happy Face Syndrome

Happy Face Syndrome

You can’t please everyone.  Many projects fail because leadership don’t want to accept this realization.  Projects stall because organizations are afraid to say ‘no’ or ‘not during this release/phase’.  No system implementation is going to meet EVERY need because people are dynamic and their needs are constantly changing.  Projects stall when internal leaders don’t effectively manage and control stakeholder expectations.  Sure, external consultants can help drive things forward, but change management is often best managed from within.


So how does this impact you? That statement of work (a/k/a engagement letter) has a section of either client responsibility or scope exclusions.  Those are the things they know they can’t, or shouldn’t do based on skill set.  Most client teams haven’t assessed the resources they’re aligning to the project in the same, methodical, and risk-based approach their consulting partners are utilizing.

Ultimately, your consulting partners are in the people business: helping you see, and become dependent upon, the value of their people.  You should be in the people business, too.

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