Tag Archives: contracting

Ethics and Insanity in Consulting


If we are continually hired to resolve the same issue that was previously addressed, is that insanity, misinformed decision making, misguided, or something else? What role should we play?

There is no doubt in my mind that some of the greatest companies in the world have made their name by re-purposing or re-packaging the same item and selling it to anyone that is willing to buy it. Recycling has become an industry unto itself in which we re-purpose something that has outlived its usefulness or passing something on that is no longer of use to the original owner. Over the life of my consulting career, I have continually built upon and improved documents, deliverables, and ideas that I had previously provided to a different customer. However, something seems to be changing.

Five years ago, I was working with an organization known as “Effective Government Now”. The organization was established to raise interest in, and to enable the use of, strategically driven performance improvement capabilities (e.g. Lean Six Sigma) across all of Federal Government with the goal of reducing waste and inefficiencies, thereby increasing effectiveness and eliminating unnecessary expenditures. At the time I was just catching on to something that I now realize has been happening forever. Five years later, nothing has changed.

The phenomenon, the continual request from my clients to reproduce products or deliverables that they have already purchased or funded on numerous occasions. I could even understand if the organizations hired a consultancy to perform work, were dissatisfied with the results and then hired a different consultancy to finish the job. These clients are continually paying to have the same studies done, the same requirements built, the same recommendations made, etc. without following up on much, if any, of it. As if they do not believe that the results could be true, they hire another organization to come in and do the work, getting the same results. On numerous occasions the clients have traveled this road so well that we have returned to one of the original contractors to re-perform the work they had done on a previous occasion. As a Master Black Belt and your Common Sensei, I find that this seems a lot like RE-WORK, something that as a CPI professional drives me mad.

Numerous people including Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein have been quoted as saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. In saying this, I hate to think my clients meet this definition. Is this an issue of avoidance, is there something wrong with the process, or has our culture moved even further toward a complete and total resistance to change? I could write it off as the “not invented here” phenomenon that I describe in an earlier post except that more times than not, they are avoiding things that were invented here. Beyond the question of insanity, beyond the issue of change management or process improvement lays a deeper question of morality and our capitalistic nature. The capitalist in me says that if I don’t take the work, they will just hire someone else to re-do what has already been done. No matter how hard I try to persuade them that it is time to implement the recommendations and begin the transformation, I, as have so many of my partners and competitors, get nowhere. I often come to the conclusion that I might as well take the money that they seem so desperate to throw away. The little voice sitting on my other shoulder is encouraging me to just walk away from the mess with a clear conscience and let someone else deal with it.

Now, what if I told you I consult almost exclusively with the US Government and the money they are using is our tax dollars? What insights do you have now?

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Filed under Business, common sense, consulting, Lean, Lean Six Sigma, Management

Low Cost Technically Incapable


In a world where every penny should count, where we are told continuously how bad the economy is, do we really know what we are getting when we bring in outside help?  I can identify numerous types of consultancies that exist in the market.  However, there are two major types that seem to be pressing my buttons recently.

The first type of consultancy is far more staff augmentation then advisory support.  These companies are nearly incapable of providing any value to their customer other than eliminating busy work.  These companies are growing at a rapid pace in the Federal Government due to the trend toward Low Cost, Technically Acceptable contracts.  Many of these companies are so low cost and poorly managed that they can hardly hold on to staff long enough to even get properly acclimated to their jobs.  Because of the Governments growing reliance on this type of Contractor we have seen a growing presence of the second type of consultancy.

The second type of consultancy is the Advisory Firm (i.e. Think Tanks or Federally Funded Research and Development Centers).  These organizations run on the motto that we are XXXXX and we are here to help.  Many of these organizations are considered not for profit however, they have rates that often double or triple their counterparts in the first group.  Moreover, they are extremely good at making recommendations and writing reports without ever delivering a single quantifiable result.  They create work for themselves by identifying gaps in Government Processes and Programs, followed by making a recommendation that includes adding more staff to the project, then expecting someone else to deliver the results that they recommended.

With these two types of companies combined we have built ourselves a whole new platform by which to demonstrate incompetence.  We lean on the low cost technically incapable companies to deliver on the promises made by the overpriced non-producers.

So, where do we go from here?  The answer isn’t as hard as it seems.  There are numerous great consultancies around the world.  These companies are reasonably priced and have renowned delivery capabilities.  They have the ability to identify problems, develop and deliver solutions all while creating a sustainable environment where the organization will be set up for long term success.

How do we get there from here?

  • Understand your needs or hire someone to help you identify those needs.  If you hire someone to help you define your needs, they shouldn’t be the ones doing the follow on work.
  • Clearly define your needs in a clearly written Performance Work Statement (PWS)
  • Identify performance metrics/goals that can be attained and will indicate the successful completion of the project/program/effort
  • Hire the people who have proven that they can do the work
  • Award work based on:
    1. Response to PWS (what they can do for you)
    2. Verified Past Performance (with references)
    3. Key Personnel (people who will be contractually bound to do the work)
    4. Price

Beyond hiring the right people to execute on the work that really needs to be done, be sure that any time you bring in contractors to provide assistance, build in a method to hold them accountable for delivery of specific products or services that clearly demonstrate a return on your investment.

Happy Leaning,

The Common Sensei

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Filed under common sense, consulting, efficiency, government consulting