Thursday, 7 August 2014

Finding the right consultancy is hard

There are lots of different types of IT consultancies; big, small, modern, old fashioned, expensive, even more expensive...

I have to admit a bit of a mistrust when it comes to most large consultancies and in fact I'm generally not a huge of fan of outsourcing come to think of it.

I've seen consultancies (charging astronomical rates), send 6-7 consultants to an engagement when 1-2 were required.  Why?  Ramp up the revenue of course.  How can you be expected to hire a company who aren't incentivised to do the best thing for you?

The aforementioned then tell you need to buy  software X from them in order to solve problem Y.   Again, self interest and a fundamental misalignment of incentives between you and them.

Lots of consultancies come in and tell you what you knew already, along with a Gartner magic quadrant to let you know what you should be doing in the future (its not hard to find out yourself).  OK, so some validation is nice once in a while but the majority of consultancy engagements I've worked on I've have wanted to solve real world issues and not death by SmartArt and PowerPoint.

Just tell me what buttons to press!

Perhaps I should point the finger back of blame back at myself and I haven't led the engagement effectively enough so that I achieved the results I wanted. However, at a squillion pounds a day you'd think they would get to the root of what you are trying to achieve pretty quickly.

I'm tarnishing the whole consultancy trade here and to be honest of course there are some good ones; they are just hard to find.  I tend to work better with the smaller consultancies, although I've had some really good engagements with ThoughtWorks.

Another pattern with the big consultancies is that they are staffed largely by consultants who are good at theory but haven't really ever lived the jobs they are talking about.  How can a consultant that's worked his way up the ladder from university ever tell me about how to structure my unit tests?  Or the best way to structure my automated deployment?  You need battle scars sometimes.

What has this got to with DevOps?  Well I guess if you are an Enterprise who wants to move to DevOps your natural reaction might be to find a correspondingly large consultancy.

Personally, I'd start really small and hire a really good focused team.  Don't engage on some 7 figure consultancy engagement.  Build a small team and grow success organically.


  1. I hear you. And I can point to many engagements I've seen that are structured that way, including the one where I met you. But trust me, the game is changing and it's not that easy anymore. IT is no longer the black box it used to be. Everyone from the CEO to the CMO and now the CDO these days is versed in technology, so if you're peddling vapourware you will be seen for what you are. If consultancies are held to the right metrics and they truly buy into your vision you can win bigtime. Or structure the deal in such a way that they are incentivised to achieve your results. Think big and leverage them to your advantage. Nothing is off the table anymore.

  2. Haha, yes it was reading your earlier comment that inspired me to think about yester-year (hope you are well btw).

    I can't make grand assumptions about all consultancies. However, from experience its very hard to get an outside organisation to effectively influence large cultural change in a company. Its much easier to do this from within by starting small and growing success.

    Having been chased by one of the big consultancies for quite some time it's one thing I keep pointing out to them. I wouldn't want to be somewhere were I was butting heads all the time regardless of how many $$$ they put in front of you.

    I'd be interested to hear how you interface with your clients and approach this type of challenge? You might have really valuable things to say but how do you get people to really sit up, listen and more importantly act when you aren't part of their organisation? Do you find that a challenge?

    I'm guessing its probably easier to sell to the CEO/CIO rather than the shop floor who may perceive it as a threat or a fad?