When Consultants Attack….Other Consultants

It’s unfortunate when consultants bicker. Read about why this still happens.

No alligators were harmed in the writing of this post.

My friend and fellow consultant/author Jim Harris and I have had a number of discussions over the past few weeks about our next blog bout. Our first one on Monopoly vs. Risk as a metaphor for IT Projects generated a decent number of views, comments, and votes. As we think about a sequel, we find it hard to disagree on many things, at least on business-related matters. I figure that this is due to one of the following reasons:

  • We have similar backgrounds and viewpoints.
  • Quasi-great minds think alike.
  • I am afraid that he can “out-geek” me and vice-versa.

One topic on which we both violently agree is the nature of squabbles between consultants on IT projects. As I approach my tenth year of consulting, I often think back to some of my run-ins with my colleagues, particularly on tense projects running behind schedule. These were perilously close to missing a key date. I have given this a bit of thought over the past few months and figured that I’d blog about it.

Seven Sources of Consultant Conflict

Consider a new consultant placed on a project to augment staff or help the client meet its go-live date or other goal. Let’s call this newbie Consultant B. I’d argue that the vast majority of consultant brouhahas can be attributed to one of the following:

  1. Consultant B possesses skills, knowledge, or abilities that Consultant A does not, causing the latter to possibly lose face in the eyes of the client—or be replaced altogether.
  2. Consultant A has security, confidence, self-esteem, or other deep-seeded psychological issues (beyond the typical emotional baggage that my therapist says is perfectly normal for an IT consultant). Tense projects often serve to heighten these issues.
  3. Consultant B does not properly respect the work that Consultant A has performed. This justifiably irritates Consultant A.
  4. Clients are tired of listening to Consultant A and simply want a new voice, even if the root message is identical. This causes strife between Consultants A and B.
  5. Consultant B discovers problems or questionable decisions made by Consultant A and broaches them with clients directly and first (or raises them for the first time during the project’s weekly status meeting).
  6. Consultant A views B as a threat for whatever reason and immediately becomes suspicious of B from the get-go (it’s not paranoia if they are out to get you – refer back to point # 2).
  7. Clients intentionally attempt to create conflict between consultants for whatever reason.

It’s unfortunate when consultants bicker. More important, nobody wins. Certain situations are untenable and it’s only a matter of time before someone is offended. Even consultants who routinely defer to others sometimes find themselves in very precarious situations.

One would hope that experienced consultants could put aside their petty jealousies, insecurities, or other issues for the good of the project and their client. New consultants are often brought in specifically for skills that their predecessors lack. However the addition of a new consultant is couched, incumbent consultants sometimes view their peers as threats. It’s simply a fact of life.

Simon Says

I have no simple solution to this problem. However, I’ll offer one tip: the project manager should set expectations from day one that incumbent consultants need to behave in a professional manner and get over any personal or professional hang-ups for the overall good of the project. The project matters more than the ego of any one person. No one wins when consultants attack.

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What say you?

philanimated

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4 Comments

  1. Barbara O'Connor

    Phil – you hit the nail on the head. Change is tough and consultants are often caught in the middle of no-win situations. I’m actually surprised that there are not more fights among you guys!

    Reply
  2. Jim Harris

    I prefer to refer to the newbie as Consultant #2 – so that I can ask “Who does Number 2 work for?”

    Extending my Austin Powers reference, I would have replaced the photo of the alligators with a picture of “sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads!”

    Consultants attacking other consultants? This sort of thing ain’t my bag, baby. (OK, I will stop now.)

    When consultants attacks, no one wins, neither the consultants nor their client – it’s the worst kind of lose-lose situation. Come on consultants – can’t we all just get along?

    Reply
  3. philsimon

    Witty stuff, Jim. Mike Myers would be proud.

    Reply
  4. Jill Dyche

    I wanted to say something confrontational and adversarial but I like both you guys too much. In fact I think if we were on a project together, the only thing we’d fight over is the tab for the lunch in the company cafeteria.

    Having said that, I would have liked a shot of a few Siamese fighting fish in the same glass bowl. Only because I’ve always wanted to clear a room with the words, “FISH FIGHT!”

    Phil, your points suggest a common phenomenon that I call “going native.” When a consultant dives into the fray, whether than means oneupsmanship with other consultants or getting pulled into the client’s politics, the consultant has abandoned the trusted advisor role. He or she has gone native.

    I used to think this was the hallmark of junior consultants but lately I’ve seen some of the behaviors you highlight in some seasoned vets. Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe it’s being powerless to challenge an unhealthy-yet-entrenched client behaviors. Either way, consultants have to take their responsibilities to transfer knowledge seriously.

    Speaking of which, do you know the definition of an egotistical consultant? It’s a consultant that isn’t always asking ME for advice!

    Just a joke.

    Jill

    Reply

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