Thursday, September 20, 2007

Awkward Questions

Rule of thumb for the aspiring consultant: you know that your case is in dire straits if your client requests a private meeting with you, on the occasion of which he really has just one simple question:

'Do you think this project is worth the money we are spending on it?'

Ahem. He didn't ask this in a menacing way. He just seemed to want my honest opinion. And of course, if you have half an idea of what your pitch and kickoff presentation were about, you'll have no difficulty in burying the man under an avalanche of arguments. But if you have half a brain you'll also know that in most cases, it's really not that simple. There very often IS a legitimate question as to what value management consultants can add.

In the case of this project, as I've said in the past, I think our team actually is doing something worth while. It consists in a combination of temporarily supplying additional managerial capacity and spelling out a few truths that are known within the company anyway but that nobody is in a position to defend. Problem is, neither of these things is what we are officially being paid for. We are paid for breathtaking out-of-the-box thinking, radical cutting-edge analysis, etc., etc. So what do you say?

My client's question was obviously motivated by the turmoil our project has generated of late (eloped PL and all that). So I was able to temporarily shirk the question by saying that once we are back in our regular routine, no doubt progress will continue to be made. But will it? It's not good if your PL runs away. And it's not good if your client nurtures doubts about the point of the entire enterprise. Stormy seas ahead.

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