CXO

The care and feeding of your Mr. Fixit

Nearly every consulting firm has a go-to person who fixes technical glitches and smoothes ruffled clients. Bob Artner explains why these Fixits of the world need special care and attention.


I was reading in The Wall Street Journal last week about Stuart Baird, who was brought in to do post-production editing on Mission: Impossible 2, the latest Tom Cruise blockbuster. According to the WSJ, Baird was brought in when the film’s director, John Woo, was struggling to edit the film’s raw footage into a final cut. Evidently, this is a common chore for Baird, who over the years has been brought in on more than two dozen movies that needed immediate help. For years, he was the resident Mr. Fixit editor at Warner Brothers but now works as a freelancer.

If you think about it, there are lots of similarities between the movie business and IT consulting. In both cases, people often move between firms or work as freelancers. In both cases, you work on a series of unrelated projects, tasks that require an intense amount of work for a short period of time, and then you move on to something else. Finally, in both cases you have a final product that you’re judged on—whether it’s opening night for a movie, or the day you roll out a new enterprise application.

And, of course, if your firm is lucky, you have a man or woman who acts as your Mr. Fixit. This is the person you bring in when a project is beginning to fall into the toilet, or when a client relationship is on the thinnest of thin ice. This is the person who can fix the technological glitch, unsnarl the project management plan, or smooth over the ruffled client.
If you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t know if we have a Mr. Fixit at this firm,” here are a couple of strategies for identifying possible candidates:
  • Compile a list of your firm’s core competencies and then list who are your firm’s best performers in each area.
  • Think back to all the projects your firm has worked on in the last year, then list those men and women who did the best job at the most difficult tasks.
Remember that Mr. Fixit changes, depending on the nature of the problem.
Makeup of a Mr. Fixit
What are the characteristics of a successful Mr. Fixit? Here again, Hollywood offers some interesting parallels to the world of consulting. See if this list matches the experience of your Mr. Fixit:
  • Mr. Fixit keeps a low profile: This is pretty easy for Mr. Baird, since most movie audiences don’t know or care who did the post-production editing. It’s a little different with an IT client. If it’s a relationship issue, obviously the client has to meet Mr. Fixit, but if it’s a technology or project-management issue, try to keep the client and Mr. Fixit at arm’s length. After all, you can’t exactly say to your client, “I’d like you to meet Elizabeth. She’s the one we bring in when we’ve really screwed up a project.” Nor can you easily say, “Elizabeth is our very best project manager,” without the client countering “Well, why didn’t I have your best people at the beginning of this project?”
  • Mr. Fixit has the respect of his peers: While it’s important for Mr. Fixit to stay under the client’s radar most of the time, the rest of your organization has to know who to go to when a crisis looms. Who is the man or woman who can fix the problem?
  • Mr. Fixit gets the authority to fix up the mess: There’s no point in calling in your best man or woman on a problem account or project if you’re not going to give that person the authority or space to get the job done. When Baird came in to fix Mission: Impossible 2, he brought in his own handpicked team of editors to help him. The producer of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (another Baird rescue project) recalls walking into an editing room and seeing Baird and his assistants surrounded by strips of film all over the furniture. The producer said to himself “My God, we’re in trouble,” but then he had the good sense to close the door and let Baird do his job. That’s what you need to do—close the door and let Mr. Fixit get the job done.
  • Mr. Fixit gets to work on his own projects as well: No one wants to spend his or her entire career fixing other people’s mistakes. After all, crisis management involves stress, huge workloads, and fast-approaching deadlines. Back in Hollywood, Baird has gotten to direct his own movies (U.S. Marshals and Executive Decision) in addition to fixing the problems of other directors. Make sure your Mr. Fixit gets to do the same.
  • Mr. Fixit is taken care of: Mission: Impossible 2 cost over $90 million to make. That made the stakes pretty high. While the WSJ article didn’t state how much Baird made for coming in and fixing it, you can be sure he didn’t come cheap. Neither will your Mr. Fixit.

On the silver screen, most movies have a happy ending. In the world of IT consulting, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, despite the best efforts of Mr. Fixit, a project falls apart or a client leaves. However, by identifying the role of Mr. Fixit, you’re giving your firm a fighting chance to pull victory from the jaws of consulting defeat.

Bob Artner is vice president for content at TechRepublic.

Are you the one they call when a botched project needs saving? How and when did you become the go-to guy or gal? Tell us about your experiences by posting a comment below or sending us an e-mail.

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