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Phil Simon

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Workplace-Technology Guru • Advisor Professor

In Defense of Consultants: A Punch-Out Based Rant

Clients who routinely ignore consultants' advice must forfeit the right to blame said consultants forever.
Nov | 16 | 2009

One of my favorite games as a kid was Nintendo’s Punch Out. Yep, I grew up in the 80s when this game was all the rage. While I could never get to Mike Tyson, much less beat him, I was able to get pretty far.

Don Flamenco (pictured above) was one easy victim for even Nintendo neophytes. Just a simple left-right combination repeatedly would quickly knock him out. Hey, Don was no Von Kaiser.

I reference Don because, as a consultant, sometimes I feel like him. What’s more, I suspect that I’m not alone. Well, today I’m going to stand up for every consultant unjustifiably raked over the coals.

Now, I’m not completely naive, at least about these types of things. I’ve known for a long time about the blame game. One of the first things that I learned as a newbie consultant in 2000 is that (insert name of problem) is always my fault. I can document my concerns, write status reports until my fingers bleed, and copy the world on an email. However, after I leave a client site, I won’t be there to defend myself against the invariable quips that “he never told us that” or “well, that’s the way that Simon told us to do it.”

I also understand that sometimes organizations and senior managers want things the way the want them; no consultant is going to tell them how to run their business. A client once told a friend of mine (also a consultant) that “we don’t pay consultants to disagree with us.” Ouch.

While that mentality is troublesome, I’ve come to terms with it over the years. However, that is not to say that this doesn’t still bother me on occasion. So, to paraphrase from The Declaration of Independence, I hold the following four consulting truths to be self-evident.

Disclaimer #1

My intent here is not to bash all people and organizations that hire people like me. That would be pretty dumb, not to mention off-target. Many organizations are rife with senior management and end-users who allow consultants to truly do their jobs. For the purposes of this post, I’m only venting about clients who:

  1. think that they always know best
  2. routinely ignore consultants’ advice
  3. make suboptimal–and irreversible–decisions
  4. come back to those very consultants looking for blood

Disclaimer #2

I’m really not trying to whine here. I’m just blowing off some steam.

1. Most consultants generally know what they are talking about.

By “most consultants”, I mean experienced, battle-tested consulted warriors who have been in the trenches many times. I’m not talking about newly-minted college grads who are no doubt book smart but may lack the wounds and knowledge accumulated over years of battle.

2. If you don’t listen to your specific consultants because you don’t trust them, then get rid of them and find new ones. Good ones. Then proceed to listen to them.

This paradox never ceases to amaze me. Consider the following two queries.

  • What is the logic behind bringing in experts only to ignore them?
  • If they’re not experts, then why keep them?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. I seriously would like to know the answers to them. Feel free to comment or contact me.

3. Most consultants care about the success of their clients and their projects. They don’t disagree with their clients for giggles.

Look, the consultant’s world would be a far better place if we could all live in peace and harmony. I never met a consultant who preferred to work with difficult, apathetic, passive-aggressive, or change-resistant clients. Give me people eager to learn new technologies and make optimal decisions any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

When I feel the need to swim against the stream on a project, it’s not because I like increasing my blood pressure. Rather, I like to think that it’s because I care (see point #1) and I have been down a particular road before. Translation: I have the benefit of foresight that my clients probably don’t. No, I’m no psychic. However, in a year or so when I’m on another gig, clients may realize that I was right and certain bells cannot be unrung.

4. Clients who routinely ignore consultants’ advice must forfeit the right to blame said consultants forever.

Alright, this will never happen. Still, this is my modest proposal and I can be a bit idealistic (read: delusional) here. I for one would love to live in such a world, although I’m still working out the kinks in this one. If constitutional amendment isn’t passed, then I’d settle for the ability to say, “I told you so.”

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  1. Bill Shander

    As I always tell my clients, they pay me to tell them no once. (I usually squeeze in an extra one or two.) But at some point, the client wins every debate, for better or worse. But these four guidelines are right on.

  2. Jim Harris

    Nice rant Phil!

    I agree with your four self-evident truths. I have been a consultant for most of my career and in various capacities, namely for the services group of software companies, for consulting firms, and also as an independent.

    From my perspective, consultants provide extensive experience and best practices from successful implementations. Their goal is to help clients avoid common mistakes and customize a solution to their specific business needs. Their primary responsibility is to make themselves obsolete as quickly as possible by providing mentoring, documentation, training and knowledge transfer.

    A consultant that chooses the path of least resistance by always agreeing with you is not worth the money you are paying them. To quote one of my favorite (but short-lived) television shows:

    “If you are stupid, then surround yourself with smart people. If you are smart, then surround yourself with smart people who will disagree with you.”

    Best Regards,


  3. Chris Cammers

    Another self evident truth, “you get what you pay for.” If every project goes to the lowest bidder then how can you expect high quality. I’ve been on several assignments where the client told me “Yeah, we went with blah blah because they were cheaper and then we ended up spending what you had originally quoted and spent twice as much time”

    I always look at my role as a consultant as striving to become my client’s trusted adviser, not in the Iago sort of way but really a trusted colleague whose expertise becomes an important part of the organization. The difference is you only need me in short bursts.


  4. philsimon

    All really good points… I echo both Jim’s and Chris’ sentiments here. Thanks for chiming in. I’m surprised, though, that no one has made a King Hippo reference.


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