Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: company hires consultants for a “too big to fail” project, but the project goes awry. Deadlines are missed. Deliverables do not hit the mark. Lots of money is spent and to date, no real progress has been made. The consultants are fired even though they offered to fix the problem they caused … for more money. There is always risk in a “too big to fail” project. Risk can be managed and mitigated by people who know who what they are doing to deliver the project on time and (hopefully) on budget. That’s why you hired the experts at the consultancy, right?

This week, the Register reported that Hertz is suing Accenture for $32 million because Accenture allegedly could/did not deliver on what was contractually promised to Hertz. I suggest you also read the comments, as they inspired me to write this post and its follow up which will be coming in a few days.

Consultants Suck

Every time I hear a story like the Hertz one, I know deep down my job as a consultant (and a business owner) gets a little harder. I’ve been doing consulting in one form or another for about 20 years as my job title, but in reality, it’s been much longer. I’ve worked as part of small consultancies (such as SQLHA) and have been employed by some big ones you know. Consultants can get a bad reputation – sometimes for cause, other times for no rational reason. Here’s the painful truth: one bad egg often spoils it for the rest.

Existing or potential clients wants the best value and service for their consulting dollar/yen/pound/Euro. Working within budgets and keeping costs manageable is not optional. Consultants need to understand a customer’s price sensitivity/budgetary constraints. Do we want fair compensation? Yes. We’re not a charity and real expertise does not grow on trees. When consulting works, here is what happens: the consultant(s) do great work, deliver on time, fairly compensated, and customers are happy. Everybody wins.

Unfortunately, some “consultants” are better at business development and marketing than delivery. They are buzzword compliant, great schmoozers, and say all the right things. The customer gets all the right warm and fuzzy feelings to sign the contract, but as shown in the Hertz story and in some of those comments, things can and often do go awry when it’s time to work together, solve the hard problems, and deliver the solution.

Consultants Don’t Suck

More than once in my career, I have been hired to mop up the mess of another consultant and deliver what the customer should have gotten in the first place. They are skeptical of hiring anyone else because of how they got burned. Why? Clients who hire bad consultants fear that they will get very little return for the amount of money paid and no deliverables. From a people aspect, sometimes the admins and/or developers feel it is an us vs. them thing going on – the consultant is going to take their job, or worse, tell management they should be fired and are incompetent. That is a true story – I have heard that more than once where a consultant came in and said to management the staff was terrible when they were not.

To anyone who thinks that consultants are evil, understand this: there are good consultants! 

A consultant’s ultimate goal is to make you successful. What success looks like will vary from project to project (examples: an assessment document, an architecure, an entire built solution, solving a perfomance or availability issue, upgrade to a new versions of <insert thing here>). The bottom line: when we ride off into the sunset, your company is better off, the administrators or developers are empowered, and goals were met or exceeded.

How to Effectively Use Consultants

When should you consider working with consultants? In my experience, here are five of the most common scenarios in our end of the world:

  • Your staff has a lot on its plate. A new initiative needs to be spearheaded by folks wo have both the time and expertise to get it done by your deadline. Time is money and so is your company’s sanity—we’ll save both.
  • To get a project done, there’s a skillset you do not have on staff. You need people who can augement and mentor your admins or developers not only deliver on time, but provide the knowledge transfer so that your everyone can manage things once the consultant leaves. REMEMBER, a need for knowledge transfer and training has nothing to do with how smart people are; new things take time to learn and master. Again, time is money. Sometimes it’s cheaper to hire than to have people bang around in the dark.
  • You want to lean on people you trust when you have questions because they’ve been there, done that. You’ve worked with them so they know your systems, applications, and environment – , and the pitfalls thereof. Whether it is troubleshooting or just a sanity check, knowing you have people who are there for you provides peace of mind.
  • In the overused buzzword bingo category, you’re looking to transform or modernize. For example, you have been mainly on premises but want to explore the public cloud or move towards hyperconverged. If your focus is SQL Server, you want people who understand SQL Server and those things (or different consultants that will work well together).
  • You have upgrade/migration/patching pain and need the thorn pulled out. Sometimes it takes someone coming in from the outside to take a holistic look at what is going on.

Final Thoughts

Bringing in the right consultants is not only the difference between failure and success, but can be the spark to accelerate said success. This includes faster problem solving and enabling your team to manage as well as prevent future challenges. They understand the big picture (not just technical, but also the business and your company’s politics), yet can roll up their sleeves and get into the technical details. Good consultants have communication skills (technical and non-technical, written and verbal), mentor those they work with, bridge teams together, and may even be a good hang!

Here at SQLHA, we pride ourselves on being those consultants described in the last paragraph. Before we take on any engagement, we ensure it makes sense for both parties. We do not take on work we cannot deliver; that just leads to that dissatisfaction that Hertz experienced. We prefer to be those first call consultants who get it right and leave the customer happy from the start, but will also help remove the stress caused by someone else’s mess.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the role clients play on an engagement to ensure that the project is a success and delivers what they need. I’d love to hear your comments below since this is a hotbed topic. Do you think consultants are evil? What are your horror stories? What are some amazing things consultants have done for you or your company?

UPDATE – Here is a link to Part II.