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What is Consulting?

35 replies on 3 pages. Most recent reply: Jun 13, 2006 8:36 AM by Bruce Eckel

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Angelo Hulshout

Posts: 4
Nickname: angeloh
Registered: Aug, 2005

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 6, 2005 2:02 PM
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> Personally, reading this rather "deflats" my opinion of him.

Why? Because he's using (as Bruce indicates) the nights to learn (and write down/publish what he has learned), instead of spending 1 day a week on learning new things? Don't forget that he wrote this article just before things started to go down...

Angelo Hulshout

Posts: 4
Nickname: angeloh
Registered: Aug, 2005

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 6, 2005 2:19 PM
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> What makes me happiest is to see people understand what I
> give them, put it to work, and show me that they no longer
> need me.

I like your view of what consulting is, but is also frighteningly hard to get to the stage where you can really do this. I've been working as an 'external hire' for 5 years now, and my previous customer is still posting (has been doing so for 5 months) a vacancy for someone to do the work I did for the 3.5 years out of 4.5 years that I worked there. Looks to me like I did something valueable, but failed in making myself obsolete in the process...

I do recognise the issue with big companies as well - guess it's very hard to do consulting in the way you describe it and make yourself obsolete, especially when the company is breathing down your neck - wanting you to stay where you are and bring in the money. Then again, is it so bad to stick with a customer a bit longer, offering your much appreciated consulting services and coach a few software developers (customer's own as well as your big company's) into getting things done the way you agreed with the customer?

I like consulting, I love working with many different people and organizations - and helping them out in getting things done in a reasonable way. Is it bad for me to accept that the world is driven by money, and balance the consequences of that with my own personal satisfaction of being able to 'help out'? At the end of the day, after all, I have two kids that need food and clothing, provided by people that are also subject to 'money rules'...

(talking about learning late at night - its 23.08 on a Saturday right now)

Robert Parnell

Posts: 22
Nickname: robparnl
Registered: Jul, 2005

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 6, 2005 2:43 PM
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As a writer, I admire Joel, as a programmer, not so much. But, writing a book on the software process, then slaving CS undergrads. (I do hope he is paying them.) Nough said. (Yes, I'll admonish myself for defaming Mr. Joel.) (Dealing with managzine editors is a nightmare! Anyone whom can handle that, must have talent.)

A lot of what is written here, though, reminds me of the classic problem of a company. Who owns it? Who is invested in it? Who runs it? How do they share their authority? Profit? versus Freedom.

The problem? The workers on the front lines, don't own it, run it "as told to", and hate how everything is setup. But, because, Mr. Vice-President of Telephony started the company, partly - I presume. Everything has to run his way.

I'd agree with Weinbergs points, as to the problem of being a consultant. Yet, as a consultant, aren't you just a highly paid temporary? (No wonder, they are so hard to talk to. I'd be pissed, to.)

Angelo Hulshout

Posts: 4
Nickname: angeloh
Registered: Aug, 2005

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 7, 2005 9:45 AM
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> Mr. Vice-President of Telephony started the company, partly > - I presume. Everything has to run his way

That's indeed a part of the problem in the larger and big companies. Get's worse if we're not talking about Mr. Vice-President of Telephony, but about Mr. Vice-President of Finance & Accounting. He's apt to know his spreadsheet's contents, but not the process that lead to implementation of the spreadsheet application that he's storing his data in ...

Then again, making those people inside the company 'see the light' is ultimate consultancy training I guess ;-)

Peter Hickman

Posts: 41
Nickname: peterhi
Registered: Mar, 2003

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 7, 2005 1:18 PM
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Consultats are by definition experts for hire. Why would you hire a consultant unless they had some skill you lacked.

Consulting firms are by definition body shops. Most of the staff in the likes of AA or PW are graduates, good graduates from big name universities maybe, but graduates all the same. They are not experts by any stretch of the imagination - where and what expertise have they? The answer is you, they are becoming experts on your dime.

Why anyone goes to a Consulting firm is beyond me. Image if a graduate knocked on your door and asked you to pay him twice the salary of your normal staff and be allowed to solve a problem he has no experience of, would you hire him?

Still it is flattering when they try and recruit you :-)

M. Eric DeFazio

Posts: 10
Nickname: defazio
Registered: May, 2005

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 7, 2005 9:01 PM
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Great Article Bruce,

Having worked for two start-up consulting companies (which experienced exponential growth for a few years until "Mediocrity" set in)... I couldn't agree more.

Those hardened with expertise in programming will generally have a tough time with companies who scale this way, or at the larger consulting companies for a few reasons:
1) They may get sick of the rules (as Joel points out)
2) Thier "role" changes to a glorified meeting participant or paper shuffler.
3) They may get stretched too thin, trying to "produce" even though they are coupled with a relatively inexperienced team, in the face of incredible odds.

Discussing this topic with a coworker of mine, we came up with this analogy:

1) Businesses want "the Sisteen Chapel Ceiling", and they want it yesterday, and at a minimal cost.

2) Consulting Companies (whose motivation is $$, not art) will promise and sell the idea of the Sisteen Chapel Ceiling, at half the cost of their competitor to win the contract and stay in business.

3) Consultants (Programmers) will genuinely attempt to produce the Sisteen Chapel Ceiling, reguardless of how ridiculous the deadlines are, or how inexperienced/short staffed they are.

4) Strapped for time, approaching deadlines, programmers are forced to improvise and break out the paint rollers.

5) The Buisness will get a bland painted ceiling probably with a few well painted murals.

6) The Business will be unhappy, however, the wording in the contract is vague such that this monstrosity of a ceiling can technically pass as "God-inspired painted ceiling".

Lance J. Welter

Posts: 2
Nickname: ljwelter
Registered: Aug, 2005

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 8, 2005 1:44 PM
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Here is twist/thought/theory on growth and the use of large consulting firms might be this.

Some years back, during my time selling in the environmental rage, I was invited yearly to Ford Motor's Executive Briefing in Detroit. Ford would bring in major environmental players and discuss how Ford was handling their many and varied environmental problems/concerns - both in Michigan and throughout the US. The speaker was a lead legal environmental counsel.

After about 45 minutes, an audience member asked the counsel if he would give the name of the consulting firm Ford was using. He was told no, Ford would not give the name. When asked why, thinking it had to do with some legal issue, he was told Ford did not think the consultant was very good.

This astounded those present and everyone was quiet until someone asked, "Why would you continue to use them."

Ford's logic was simple. The consultant had come on board sometime back and done an admirable job. As time went by, Ford learned to work with the consultant, while the consultant learned to work with Ford - each learning the quirks of the other. Simmply put, Ford did not want to have to go through this learning curve again.

Eric Gillespie

Posts: 13
Nickname: viking
Registered: Jun, 2005

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 9, 2005 12:52 AM
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I like the article. I want to talk about two things, remembering that I've got absolutely no experience in any fields you lot know about, aside from the fact that I've been kicking around the desktop world long enough to get to know more than others currently do who are just starting.

First off: you've discussed how it's difficult to judge how big a collection of people can get before chasing the almighty buck, and reference has also been made to "Mythical Man-Month" scaling issues. But what about the opposite problem? Just how small can a group remain without spending more time just catching up in training than they are able to spend on their customers' needs? Does Moore's law sort of apply to keeping up with the play, or does the consultant group risk ending up in a niche that becomes narrower the longer they are around for? Also associated with this point is: how small can a consultancy firm be, before they disappear off the radars of most firms, who quite often look for a company with more than ten people, given that the more people a company has to do the work, the more likely they are to be able to complete the customer's contract?

Second: even in a group of, say, two to four, egotism of the participants could end up overriding any usefulness the consultancy organisation might actually provide to their customer base (regardless of their actual experience), and therefore have two effects. They themselves become disillusioned, as none of their customers are "elite" enough to recognise their unique experience; and the companies (feeling burned, and understandably so) become disillusioned with consultants in general, due to the poor experiences they gained from the "elite" thinkers.

I do grant that these firms don't tend to stay around long, but, how hard is it to resist the siren call of "I'm so good!"? Is that the reason why consultancy gets such good money?

John D. Mitchell

Posts: 244
Nickname: johnm
Registered: Apr, 2003

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 9, 2005 11:13 AM
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> Consultats are by definition experts for hire. Why would
> you hire a consultant unless they had some skill you
> lacked.

That's only one reason of many. For example, true consultants (not just "contractors") are often brought in so that there's an opinion that isn't (as) influenced by the internal politics of the (big) organization. Another is to get the benefit of a completely different (technical) perspective. Another is to get fresh perspective (i.e., someone who hasn't been around through all of the history of the project and so isn't biased by their personal experience of all of those trials and tribulations). Etc.


> Consulting firms are by definition body shops. Most of the
> staff in the likes of AA or PW are graduates, good
> graduates from big name universities maybe, but graduates
> all the same. They are not experts by any stretch of the
> imagination - where and what expertise have they? The
> answer is you, they are becoming experts on your dime.

IMHO, no, those companies are all just body shops == contractor pimps. As Bruce said, their goals are to increase their revenue. A consultant's goal is to help the client.

> Why anyone goes to a Consulting firm is beyond me. Image
> if a graduate knocked on your door and asked you to pay
> him twice the salary of your normal staff and be allowed
> to solve a problem he has no experience of, would you hire
> him?

Fear. People, especially those in bigger organizations, think (sometimes correctly :-) that going with the bigger vendor will mitigate their risks (especially their personal risks w.r.t. the corporate politics). I.e., just as we've discussed about the insanity of the "consulting" firms as they grow large, the pressures in any large organization tend to induce a lot of dysfunction.

> Still it is flattering when they try and recruit you :-)

:-)

John D. Mitchell

Posts: 244
Nickname: johnm
Registered: Apr, 2003

How low can you go? Posted: Aug 9, 2005 11:21 AM
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> First off: you've discussed how it's difficult to judge
> how big a collection of people can get before chasing the
> almighty buck, and reference has also been made to
> "Mythical Man-Month" scaling issues. But what about the
> opposite problem? Just how small can a group remain
> without spending more time just catching up in training
> than they are able to spend on their customers' needs?
> Does Moore's law sort of apply to keeping up with the
> play, or does the consultant group risk ending up in a
> niche that becomes narrower the longer they are around
> for? Also associated with this point is: how small can a
> consultancy firm be, before they disappear off the radars
> of most firms, who quite often look for a company with
> more than ten people, given that the more people a company
> has to do the work, the more likely they are to be able to
> complete the customer's contract?

Well, that depends. Are you asking about how small can an e.g., software contracting firm can get and still be effective across a wide range of projects? Or are you asking about how small a true consulting firm can be and still be effective? Or are you asking both?

Bruce Eckel

Posts: 875
Nickname: beckel
Registered: Jun, 2003

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 9, 2005 12:05 PM
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> Fear. People, especially those in bigger organizations,
> think (sometimes correctly :-) that going with the bigger
> vendor will mitigate their risks (especially their
> personal risks w.r.t. the corporate politics). I.e., just
> as we've discussed about the insanity of the "consulting"
> firms as they grow large, the pressures in any large
> organization tend to induce a lot of dysfunction.

I suppose as long as we're delving into the dark side, there's also "blameability." It's easier to blame the consulting firm because the worst thing that could happen is they go away. And they are usually supposed to go away, eventually, anyway.

There's also some interesting bookkeeping. When you hire someone on, their actual cost is some multiple of their salary, so depending on how you calculate it you might decide that a body-shop consultant is cheaper at an apparently higher cost.

There's the fireability issue. A huge part of most HR departments is taken up with documentation to allow someone to be fired without ending up with a lawsuit. Consultants/body shop folks can be fired at will, for no particular reason. And you don't incur HR expense in the meantime.

If you are bringing someone in to inject new ideas into a company, you don't really know whether those ideas are going to be a good fit. Or if the person is. If they are a consultant (by my definition of "outside thinker" and not the body-shop definition), you have a certain distance, which allows you to pick and choose what (if anything) that the consultant offers that may do you good, or be a good fit within the political character of the company. I think this last point is one of the benefits of using an outside consultant (there is such a thing as an inside consultant, as well).

Lance J. Welter

Posts: 2
Nickname: ljwelter
Registered: Aug, 2005

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 9, 2005 2:12 PM
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I totally agree with you on your thoughts and perceptions here. The story shows another big company mindset - being don't rock the boat.

Antonio Toma

Posts: 1
Nickname: aatoma
Registered: Aug, 2005

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 23, 2005 5:00 AM
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I'm a consultant. They say. But if I think being a consultant as helping the customer to do his job instead of doing the job on behalf of the customer, I must admit that I've been a consultant a couple of times in the last 10 years.

Bruce Eckel

Posts: 875
Nickname: beckel
Registered: Jun, 2003

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Aug 23, 2005 5:08 AM
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There's a grid somewhere, that I learned about in a Weinberg seminar, categorizing various fashions that you can help people. In one extreme, you do everything for the client and they learn nothing, but they get what they want. In the other extreme (I'm exaggerating a bit here) your presence inspires the client to understand and solve the problem themselves. The grid shows all sorts of variations in between.

I think there's a URL for this somewhere -- perhaps someone remembers it?

Kiran Ayyagari

Posts: 1
Nickname: ayyagari
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: What is Consulting? Posted: Sep 19, 2005 5:47 AM
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This actually reinforced my implicit ideas about Consulting and how a REAL Consultant should be.
Good article to read and PRACTICE in that way.

Flat View: This topic has 35 replies on 3 pages [ « | 1  2  3 | » ]
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