Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Consulting Red Flags: Ten tips from the NBA to help a consulting user secure a winning consulting arrangement

1. The last time I checked, the NBA All-Star teams were stocked with players from 20 or so teams. Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Steve Nash and Dwayne Wade all play for different teams. If a consultancy puts forward its team as the all-league all-star team, with no deficiencies whatsoever, that is a red flag. All teams have them. Both sides should understand this and strive for a best fit, given the realities that talent gets spread around naturally.
2. However, consulting teams need a winning formula. Do they know what it is? Will that work in your environment? For the Lakers, it was Kobe and a solid supporting cast. For the Magic, it was Howard, Lewis, Turkoglu and a solid rotation. Other teams put all shooters on the floor or play defense first.
3. I did not notice an NBA team, in an effort to save money, put the cheapest, most inexperienced player they could find on the court this season. Heck, there are people who would pay for the glory of playing. No, I think every team tried their best to win as many games as possible. If your consulting team consists of 3 solid players that you are presented with, with the rest to be named later, make sure they are not filling it out with the cheapest players they can find. Of course, that is misguided on their part as well, but sometimes you need to save the consultancies from doing the wrong thing for both of you.
4. Scores and game clocks are not kept in the referee's head. He does not suddenly blow the whistle and say "game over, Suns win 104-99, goodbye." The time and the score are kept on large scoreboards for all to see throughout the game. Do you have a scoreboard? Does your consultancy? It is important to know how much progress is being made throughout the game.
5. Beyond the starting 5, NBA benches are filled with world-class athletes, many of whom get as much or more playing time as starters. What is your consultancy's bench? I'm not referring, necessarily, to their employees not on billing, but just what is their contingency plan in case of injury, sudden and unexpected poor performance or if a player were to leave in the middle of the game? Is the consultancy plugged into the culture of the discipline they are engaged in? Do they have a warm network? Do they scout?
6. NBA teams come to expect certain things from the places they play - things like fans, referees, locker rooms, food, transportation, hoops, lights, a marked court and basketballs to play with. What is your consulting team expecting from you? Software? Hardware? Requirements? Access to certain individuals? Physical space? The ability to network their laptops? It would be a drag to see the game try to start without a basketball or to have the lights go out in the 3rd quarter. Clear up expectations ahead of time with your consultancy.
7. When the Pistons show up to the American Airlines Arena in Miami, they expect the Heat to come out of the dressing room to play against. Imagine their surprise should the Warriors come out! Or they have to play against 6 players on the court. Now, they have game-planned for one team (5 players at a time) and get to play an entirely different team. This bit of surprise will not help the Pistons be successful that night. Is there information the consultancy is not asking for that they should be in order to know what they are up against?
8. Sure, playing basketball is fun. However, it's also work. Players dive after loose balls, flying into the stands if necessary, and are expected to go all out with little consequence to their body. They need to be skilled at avoiding injury, but cannot play overly concerned with it. There are many moments in a consulting project where it's less fun and more work. Are you hiring a consultancy that is prepared for the potential hard work ahead?
9. NBA teams shoot about 80 field goals per game, hitting less than half. Actually, only a handful of players in the league hit over 50 percent of their field goals. However, you can't score or win if you don't shoot. The Harlem Globetrotters are entertaining when they go into their circle and keep passing the ball, but you don't see that in a real game. Is your consultancy willing to shoot, and are you willing to let them, even though half of the shots aren't going in, or is the consultancy interested in making entertaining passes, perhaps back to you?
10. Finally, experience counts. At the NBA draft last year, I was alarmed when the announcers said that some of the second round picks would not even make the NBA. Only 60 players are drafted each year, all with eye-popping highlights from college and European leagues, and some won't make it?! That's how tough it is. Is your consultancy circumventing this rule and passing along the inexperienced to you?

Friday, December 18, 2009

December 31, 9999 will be a bear

Ten years ago next week, I, like many of you, were monitoring systems for any Year 2000 glitches as the new year came in and the calendar rolled over to 2000. It was a most uncelebratory new year as I stared at monitors at a client site along with everyone else who could potentially be useful should a crash have occurred. It was one of those things where we did not know what might happen or what we might be called upon to do. We just had to be ready for anything. Fortunately, nothing unusual happened except some PCs didn’t turn over the year correctly (insert joke here: how many consultants does it take to update a PC date?).

This seemed to be the case throughout the IT world as systems hummed along. There was some remediation done in the months prior, but not much. Does anyone remember all the predictions of gloom? A whole industry sprouted up (and down) around this “problem”.

This New Year’s Eve, there are no such concerns. We can party like it’s NOT (Dec. 31) 1999.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Consultant's Christmas Song

Sung to the tune of The Christmas Song...

Competitors roasting on an open fire
Account Managers nipping at your budget
Buzzwords being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up in business casual.

Everybody knows some statements of work and signatures
Help to make the season bright
Practice Managers with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that next year’s budgets are on their way
It’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on the sleigh
And every friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend is gonna spy
To see if project managers really know how to buy.

And so I'm offering this simple phrase
To Directors from thirty-one to sixty-five
Although it's been said many times, many ways
Merry Consulting to you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Right Age to Begin Consulting

If you want to win the Masters one day and you can read this, you are probably too late.

It's a decade-long commitment to becoming a doctor after college and, well, most will begin that commitment in their early 20s.

While you may not stay in the same company while doing it, climbing the corporate ladder to the top takes a similar level of commitment, as well as one or more big jumps usually supported by a mentor in the organization.

Granted, some fields are more forgiving of later commitments and less competitive than these. Consulting is one of them.

Actually, to make it to the top in consulting, you may want to consider NOT starting your career in it. While fresh faces out of college joining the big consultancies or the boutiques can be a powerful strategy, so can spending time in industry - in positions not only doing the work you will be consulting in, but also in positions hiring consultants doing that work. This way, you will learn to understand the pressures, the politics and the budgetary issues involved. These can be invaluable skills when you are on the other side of the relationship.

This is the consulting equivalent of hiring a former IRS agent to help you in your disputes with the IRS.

Then again, whether you want to take consutling to the top or not is not really the career question is it? The question is whether it is the best path for you now. Your consulting goals are not burdened if it's not the first stop in your career.