Friday, August 26, 2005

Bruce Eckel on Consulting

Great post from Bruce Eckel on consulting. His definition:

"I think consulting is when you have some kind of special expertise -- come by through hard struggle and learning -- that you transfer to a group of people, in a relatively short period of time, and in a way that is unique for that group. I also think that consulting involves addressing particular issues faced by that group. "

He also addresses a very common industry phenomenon:

"It's tempting to make the analogy to a ponzi scheme, but it's not that bad. Both forms of a consulting firm (first-class consultants only vs. high-tech body shop) have value. The problem is the temptation to present the second form as the first, in order to apply the same high fees of the first-class consultant to each additional body added to the shop. The goal of the company becomes "how do we transfer the aura of authority from the high-image consultant(s) to anyone who works for us, so that we can charge the highest fees possible?" Or to simplify, at some point the bean-counter mentality takes over and the mission statement of the company goes from "how do we provide the greatest value to the customer?" to "how do we charge the highest fees possible?" (You can argue that this is the fundamental shift that any publicly-held company goes through. After all, a public company is legally beholden to maximize shareholder value, so how could it be otherwise?)"

I have noticed this myself, when I was working in Boston during the tail portion of the dot-com years. I was chatting to an Indian body shopper who was a sub-contractor for Andersen Consulting; While Andersen made $450 plus per hour, this sub-contractor got about $70 - You can imagine how much would have trickled down ultimately into the pockets of the programmers, who were paraded as Andersen consultants to clients.

Another nugget from the article:

But advice that appears to be rational does not necessarily solve real design problems, as we saw in the "structured design" movement of the 70's. This seems to happen over and over in our industry -- it's easy to focus on one aspect that seems to be "the solution" and miss the big picture, and to produce unintended consequences that eliminate the benefit of what may seem so clear in isolation.

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