Resource Mistakes, Part IV: Expecting Complete Obedience

September 13, 2010
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In this last part of my series on resource mistakes, I’ll take a look at an inherent conflict that plagues many information management (IM) and IT projects. This conflict stems from one simple statement:

The best consultants are not merely order takers–nor should they be.

In this last part of my series on resource mistakes, I’ll take a look at an inherent conflict that plagues many information management (IM) and IT projects. This conflict stems from one simple statement:

The best consultants are not merely order takers–nor should they be.

I’ll let that one sink in for a minute because it tends to rub some people the wrong way. Many  people erroneously believe that consultants should always just do what they’re told to do. Clients are paying us good money and, especially in this economy, who has the temerity to say no.

Here are four good reasons that the best consultants will not simply fall in line when a client asks them to do something entirely inappropriate:

  • Legal
  • Ethical
  • Financial
  • Reputational

Let’s explore each.

Legal

Most consultants carry errors and omissions (E&O) insurance, defined as “business liability insurance for professionals such as insurance agents, real estate agents and brokers, architects, third party administrators and other business professionals.” While E&O contracts do not define the explicit tasks that a consultant can and cannot do on any particular gig, most have some type of limits. In other words, consultants don’t have carte blanche to perform whatever task they–or their clients–deem appropriate. I personally have never had to show a copy of an E&O contract to a client, but I have refused to delete production data without a formal request because of it.

Ethical

Forget for a minute about what consultants are legally allowed to do. Let’s talk about what they should and shouldn’t do. I have no problem with coming in to save the day, as I have done more than a few times in my consulting career. I enjoy solving problems. But there are limits to what I–and other conscientious consultants–feel comfortable doing. I can think of an instance in which an end-user intentionally purged hundreds of thousands of financial records in a system–sans permission. He intimated to me that he wanted to get them back without letting others know. While this wasn’t possible, that was beside the point: others may have run reports based on incomplete information and I would have felt compelled to let those potentially affected know.

Financial

Consultants are always worried about billing. We don’t run hedge funds; we’re always chasing the money. Rare is the client that always pays on time. Consultants who continue to do questionable things for particular end-users significantly increase their risk of not being paid, especially if and when a senior executive finds out what’s been going on. Of course, the consultant can always say, “I was following orders.” That may or may not fly but, to many, it’s just not worth the risk.

Reputational

Finally and perhaps most important, consultants’ reputations are their currency. For any one of us, it only takes on dissatisfied client to mar an otherwise impeccable track record. While these fleas come with the dog, a consultant forced to do unnatural things on a high-profile disaster will always be associated with that project. Based upon my experience, it’s rare that an end-user will say something along the lines of, “Our project failed miserably, but it had everything to do with us and nothing at all to do with the consultants. Our bad.”

Look, no one is advocating outright defiance because a consultant just doesn’t feel like doing something entirely reasonable. But expecting consultants to walk off a plank is an enormous mistake. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, “You want us on that wall. You need us on that wall.”

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