Ten ways to get the most out
of your consultant
It costs upwards of £500 to hire a consultant for one day.
Unless your company habitually blows that kind of wad just to keep
the finance dept ticking over (and some do), you'll want to get the
most out of that day. The advice below may help, from the point of
view of someone on the opposite side of the fence who's had more than
a few frustrating jobs.
NB. The following does not reflect the opinions of and is not
sanctioned by my employer or any of my employer's partners. Hence it
may not be couched in customer-friendly terms. It might taste foul
but it's good for you.
- Be clear about what you want to achieve.
Too many customers have only the vaguest notion of what they want
from the day and whether it is achievable or not. Sometimes that's
why they hired the consultant in the first place, but try to
define your problem(s) and issue(s) explicitly.
- Make sure you have all the prerequisites.
No, I don't travel with a complete set of Sun products in the boot
of my car (I wish - I'd flog the lot). If it's an install, I need
the software...and manual...and the license keys...and best of
all, a machine to work on...preferably with a chair and a desk. A
consultant is usually one extra body in your office that often you
don't have space for, but try to make some.
Quite often, the consultant will need to liaise or work with some
of your own staff, and may require assistance testing their
solutions. Make sure you're in a position to come up with with the
goods. Otherwise you've just wasted money hiring someone to sit
around, drink coffee and look bored while thinking of better
things to do.
Example: The large telecoms company who, after agreeing
to try some mods for their under-performing application, said:
"But we can't schedule a rebuild until next week." And they didn't
have any chairs either.
- Keep the consultant fed and watered.
None of us carry signs saying "Do not feed the animals" so don't
be shy about being hospitable. Most sites lay on a cuppa on
arrival and several more throughout the day but some - memorably -
don't. At least point us at the machine. A caffeine overdose can
make a person do crazy things, but lack of the same often leads to
unfortunate mistakes, sometimes involving your production
We don't expect a slap-up lunch - although we won't object - but
appreciate being told where the canteen or nearest pub is and what
the opening hours are. Pet peeve: asking and being told "Oh, the
canteen's shut now. You can get a Mars bar from the machine."
- Let us in.
Everyone seems to employ labyrinthine security arrangements now,
most of which exist purely to make life difficult for legitimate
workers. If we're on site for more than a week then it helps to
have a guest pass, swipe card, parking permit, MI5 clearance or
whatever is required, rather than having to scratch at the door
like the cat.
Happily, often these security measures are subverted by lazy
employees and it's no longer a problem. This leads to scenarios
where sites spend £50,000 on an Internet firewall for
machines that anyone can walk off with.
- "The impossible we can do at once, miracles take a little
Often we leave home before 6am to drive for three hours on the
motorway in rush hour traffic in order to be at your place by 9am.
Only the hopelessly naïve would expect someone to be
bright-eyed and busy-tailed at that point. Give us time to wake
up, and start gently.
To those who say, "Well, you should travel the night before and
stay over": thanks, I have my own life too.
- You're getting an expert...but not a custom-built one.
Surprisingly, you can pay top dollar and still hire someone who
says, "I don't know the answer to that." That's OK. You haven't
paid for someone who has all the answers at their fingertips - in
the mad world of enterprise computing, such a person doesn't exist
and anyone who claims to be this mythical beast is more likely an
inveterate bullshitter. You've paid for someone who knows where or
how to find the answers and has the time to do so; in other words,
"Yes, that's right! I am trained in the art of interfacing
workgroup servers to dot matrix toasters. They'd been keeping me
in a broom cupboard until you called."
...Ain't gonna happen.
- If you have a problem with the consultancy, tell the
On at least two clearly memorable occasions, the client perceived
a problem with the level of service I was capable of providing.
Rather than initially raise their concern with me, thus promoting
a gentlemanly, rational dialogue, they chose to call the contract
arranger. Who called my employer. Who called me. Who knew
Obviously I didn't refer to the client as a "two-faced S.O.B." to
their face, but the thought was there for some time afterwards,
accompanied by a deep level of mistrust and resentment. Hey, I'm
Please - address your concerns to the consultant in the
first instance, and give them a chance to respond, either by
explaining their position better, calling for additional
assistance or improving their execution. And then, if you still
don't get satisfaction, take it up with their manager.
- The consultant has little empathy with the salesman.
Sometimes, a consultant wants to tell you things that are the
opposite of what the salesman who sold you your setup originally
said. And occasionally, they accidentally do. If they happen to go
"off-message", don't scream and shout and shoot the messenger.
They're only being honest; they can't help themselves. Ask for a
practical workaround or call your vendor, don't get the poor sod
fired - they may be in an awkward and unenviable position.
- Take away what you're given.
Believe it or not after reading the above, most consultants have a
keen and sympathetic interest in ensuring that you obtain value
from their work, that you will not need to hire another consultant
in the near future but that if you do, you will ask for them by
name (if this does not appear to be the case, they probably don't
want to come back because you upset them by not reading the
above). They're generally in this line of work because they enjoy
it and they're good at it., so forgive them if they want to share
this enthusiasm with you. Often, a consultant tries to explain
what they've done and what you need to do to maintain their work
when they've gone. Do them the courtesy, and yourself the favour,
of listening. It probably matters.
Pushing them out the door as fast as possible once your problem is
solved without finding out what they've done is funny. But the
joke is on you.
The consultant is god. Only joking. We can
14th October 1998