'I told you so' moments in IT consulting

Read a TechRepublic member's story in which he ended up telling his client, "I told you so." Chip Camden reminds IT consultants that not all "I told you so" lessons have such happy endings.

TechRepublic member Bob Eisenhardt (reisen55) relates the following story:

For the past two weeks, I have been in discussion - argument mode with a client that the primary drive of their server is showing defects, bad block, and should be replaced. Client responds "Why? it has been working fine for many years." Exactly the point, for many years. I finally got them to agree to a drive replacement 24 hours ago by framing the argument in terms of THEIR BUSINESS and not my own business. I made the valid point that as an optometric business, they recommend problems to patients of eye failure, ramifications of such a failure. Patients often say "Why? My eyes have been working perfectly since childhood?" Same argument.

Just as Bob was preparing to replace the drive, it failed. The client dodged a bullet, because Bob had already backed up their data and was able to get them back up promptly. But Bob made sure that the lesson was not lost. "I told you so," he said. Hopefully, the client will believe his recommendations in the future.

Not all "I told you so" lessons have such happy endings. For example, underestimating the effort required for software development projects is a chronic problem in our industry (and I'm a fellow-sufferer). The larger the project, the more wildly inaccurate those estimates are likely to be. Nevertheless, over and over again I encounter software vendors who think that they can rewrite a 20-year-old vertical application in six months, from scratch. Invariably, they possess neither an exhaustive list of requirements nor a complete suite of tests for the application's behavior. After examining the application, I'll tell them that in six months they might have a reasonable list of requirements if they really get moving on examining how their customers use the product, but there's no way they're going to have a replacement for their existing application in less than three years, and that's being aggressive. I'll recommend a multi-phased approach instead, in which the final vestiges of their old product won't disappear for several years, if ever -- but they'll have a decent upgrade within a year, along with a plan for future improvements.

The clients who reject this analysis of the situation usually do so for political or ideological reasons rather than on technical or business advantages, so there's really no way to convince them. A few years and several million dollars wasted makes the point much more clearly. After that occurs, I have mixed feelings about saying "I told you so." I might be only softly speaking those words to myself -- because after writing me off as a naysayer so long ago, only to be proven wrong at such a high cost, a client may not be able to bring themselves to make use of my services again. Being too right can become a lose-lose situation.

Ideally, you only want to say "I told you so" to your client in reference to small losses that will provide the object lessons that convince them to believe you on the bigger questions. Better yet are the "I told you so" moments that relate to your client's successes.

Back in 1992, I consulted for a software development company who wanted to port their application from OpenVMS to a Unix platform. I provided a road-map for them, and then remarked "this approach will also prepare you to port your application to Windows when you're ready for that step." Remember, this was 1992. "Windows, pah! We'll never go to Windows," they said. "You'll be porting to Windows within five years," I replied. Sure enough, by 1997 they were on Windows, with a little help from yours truly. In fact, they beat out an internal competitor (set up through the consolidation of their industry) on the strength of their Windows UI (in addition to their solid application back-end). Now, of course, I wish along with almost everybody else that Windows hadn't achieved its dominance of the desktop, but at the time I owed it to my client to help them exploit that market to the best of their ability. And both they and I enjoy it when I tell them, "I told you so."