The Consultant Phenomenon

The term Consultant is such an integral part of the corporate world – invoking, at the same time, images of a monster, a smooth operator, a scapegoat, a panacea for all evils or a tail-spinning artist depending on your point of view – that it deserves to be treated as a phenomenon rather than a mere noun.

First, who IS a Consultant? While we can fill several volumes with definitions and narratives, let us, for the sake of simplicity, treat the Consultant as an ‘outsider’ who is hired to accomplish a task that the parent organization in unable or unwilling to do with its internal resources (phew, that was hard!).

A Consultant usually makes his way in as an expert in something. The first thing that he does to establish his expertise is to question if the problem that he is hired to solve is indeed as simple as the novice organization initially thought it to be. “Do you think this is simply a technical problem of linking all your computers together in a network? Have you thought of access controls? How would you protect the (fictitious) personnel data (that is not present on these computers) from unauthorized changes? Where is your audit trail?” and many more questions are thrown at the unsuspecting managers unfortunate enough to be selected to work with the Consultant. Very quickly, matters spin out of control and a one-week assignment for one Consultant becomes a multi person-year program, complete with an in-house office set up for about hundred staff members from the Consultant company.

A series of meetings then follows to define the problem. “But, we already stated the problem in our original engagement letter” pleads the IT Manager with a quiver. She is quickly brushed aside by the Senior Partner from the Consultant company who is armed with a 55-slide presentation on the steps for scope definition. It becomes rapidly evident to the parent organization that they do not have any of information required by the Consultant to define the assignment. Several dozen in-house programmers are pulled from their critical work to extract and analyze data from various databases – ranging from number of copies of applications running on various servers to the first names of spouses of employees who left the company in the past 50 years. In the meanwhile, all the Consultants (yes, there are dozens of them by now) are preparing the next set of questions to be answered.

Six months and several million dollars later, there is the expected management review of what (the hell) is going on. Needless to say, it is the Consultant(s) who is presenting the status, as everyone in the parent organization has become a dumb bystander in the project. There is a bewildering array of colors – green, yellow, orange, pink and variations thereof – representing the current state of several hundred activities, none relevant to the original assignment. The CIO who is chairing the meeting asks his Director, “What are we trying to achieve here?” The Director starts to mumble, “I think….. I mean…..we started ……” when the Partner from the Consultant company smoothly chips in with, “Respected CIO, that is the topic for our next meeting at 10 AM on Monday next week”, bringing to an end yet another valiant attempt by the parent organization to retrieve itself from the maze.

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4 thoughts on “The Consultant Phenomenon

  1. Very aptly defined, when you bring in to advise
    Someone on a specific issue; they are looking to expand their role (business interests). We all need to remember fact that like we have our key objectives to accomplish theirs is to expand the given problem into something big so that their returns are maximized.

    I am not saying all do this but ….

  2. And then, finally, someone high up in the company says, “Our consulting relationship seems unnecessarily bloated. I think we should hire a consultant to streamline it a little bit…”

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