Why do you hire consultants?

I’ve got a bit of a thing for medical television programs, drama like Holby City, comedy like Scrubs, and the somewhere in between like Grey’s Anatomy. One of the things that fascinates me about these shows is the concept of a “consult” or a specialist in a particular area – when they talk others listen, mostly because they have a wealth of experience and their job is to share it.

Compare that to the computer business where calling someone a consultant is almost an insult and an opportunity to complain about their rates and speculate on the quality of their work. There is obviously a difference in how consultants are perceived in the two industries, but is the bagging that consultants get in IT really justified?

Every now and then I come across an engagement where I feel that I’m not necessarily providing value for money, I try to change that and if I can’t I attempt to terminate the engagement. One of the things that I can use to provide value for money is re-use pre-written research that I have done into various things and present it to the client in a fraction of the time it would take me to write it from first principles.

Most of the clients are happy with this approach as it allows us to step over that issue and keep driving to the core of the issue that I’ve been engaged to address, but every now and then a client wants me to “show working”. Back in high school my Maths teacher used to always tell me to show working (or rather show _better_ working), and it made sense, after all I’m trying to prove that I didn’t just use a calculator – but in a corporate environment, doesn’t it make a lot of sense to use pre-worked resources to get some leverage?

If you don’t – why did you hire a consultant?

One thought on “Why do you hire consultants?

  1. Kevin Daly

    There are consultants, and there are consultants.
    Aside from the “not-us-and-overpaid” reactions, which can’t be helped (and probably have more to do with local conditions in the company), I would say that it’s the accountancy-based consultancies (such as the Androids and so on) that have given the word a bad name in IT. In their particular case the badreputation has been earned, partly through a general predatorial attitude, and very largely through the fact that they have infected the development process itself by promoting their ideas of how things should be done despite a history of having produced nothing in particular (and corporates listen to them because they have nice suits)…and whenever those ideas are accepted, job satisfaction goes out the window and it becomes all but impossible to do anything that has not been done a million times before, because their idea of reducing risk is to reduce software development to the same level as putting biscuits in trays for a living.
    And then there are the management consultants (of which the previously mentioned group are really just a larval stage, although the relationship may be more like that of remoras to sharks) – this group has two functions:
    a) Identify excuses to cut jobs while making senior management look competent and decisive
    b) To do what senior management are paid large salaries to do but are obviously not competent to do since they have to hire consultants to tell them how to do it. This is standard in government departments.

    So it’s no surprise that the word “consultant” has been tarnished by association – perhaps it should be replaced with “consulting development specialist” (although in keeping with the fashion for job title inflation there should probably be at least 2 or 3 occurrences of the word “architect” in there somewhere.

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