Major changes in my life occurred this
week. I’ll bore you with the details later as there’s a topic I
would like to address. I’m sure that comes as a surprise to everyone
given the amount of bandwidth my blogs consume. Addressing topics,
sometimes very strange ones, pretty much defines what I do.
A few years ago I wrote two articles
for Tech Republic on the consultant’s role. One suggested
invisible consulting in which the consultant provided support
and knowledge to the existing team. The other suggested visible
consulting in which the consultant acts as a champion and change
agent to enable work the client needs. Both came from a consultant’s
point of view to describe boundaries around our activities. Neither
spoke at all about the responsibility of the company hiring the
consultant or the importance of proper oversight/review.
No matter how much money we spend on
them, or how well they try to do, consultants are in the end just
people. They try, with varying degrees of dedication, to do the job
as they understand it. Sometimes they succeed. Often times they
fail, just as anyone would, but we choose to cover it up due to our
organizational commitment (expressed in monetary terms) to whatever
project they worked on.
These reviews take on two distinct
forms, depending upon what we hired the consultants to do. If we
hired them to provide skills and services we simply do not have the
internal resources to produce, we must review their work for
suitability and sustainability. If we hired them to do things we
already know but cannot get the time to do, we need to review their
work for correctness and supportability. Finally, if we hired them
to review the work of our own teams we need to review their work for
applicability and actionability.
At first glance that all looks like
management speak for review their work. Honestly, if people
would review a vendor’s work more often we’d all be better off. Yet
I’m actually trying to say something about metrics here, so let’s
dive in a bit.
When we hire in consultants who, in
theory, can do something we cannot we have to review their work.
Yet, how can we do so? We don’t know what they know. We do not have
the experience they have, or the abilities they gained exploring a
specific technology over and over again. In this case we can review
their work by judging whether we can first use it to accomplish our
goals and second whether we can maintain whatever they created
without further intervention. In order to do the first we have to
know exactly what we wanted them to accomplish. In order to do the
second we have to know what we have the time and knowledge to do;
time is not a consultant’s concern but knowledge and knowledge
Similarly, when we hire a consultant to
review the work of our own people, we have to measure that output
somehow. It’s comforting to get a nice, well formatted report;
that’s in fact what most of these engagements seem to produce.
Although these deliverables fulfill various ritual functions, they
only take on meaning in the business world when we can actually act
on them. This means the information the review provides must first
apply to our situation either now or in the immediate future. It
also means the review must provide some concrete actions we can take
to improve, or at least stabilize, our situation.
Finally, and most easily dealt with, we
have the situation where we hire a consultant to perform a task we
know how to do but do not have the resources to address. In this
case we need to take the time to perform a review (architectural for
infrastructure, code for development) using our standard procedures.
We have a responsibility in this case to be both through and fair; we
should also let the consultant know ahead of time what metrics we
will use to measure his success. On one hand this is fair; on the
other it ensures the consultant will know what’s expected of him so
he has a hope of delivering it.
More information about the changes in
my life after I have a chance to absorb them.