It’s not often that I have brainwaves of this magnitude, but this one was a doozy. When setting up BlackBook, I had been rooting around in my notes from my prior foray into independent consulting, looking for some inspiration. I was looking for a unifying framework, that would help me standardise my consultancy work across the board.

My previous consulting venture was known as ‘Egality’. I’d built several excellent processes and working documents into that business, around ten years ago now. I’ve resurrected them for this business, because they were that good. But with the benefit of hindsight, age and experience, I noted that I had done something without thinking in my work back then. I had unknowingly separated my work process into four distinct areas.

DIAGNOSE

Like any good scientist, it’s very important to know what you are working with before you perform an experiment. When trying to improve any organisation, the same caveat applies.

Any client will have an idea of what the challenge is, so a clear brief is hugely important. But sometimes, a clear brief isn’t possible – so it becomes necessary to put your white lab coat on, and go diving in to see what the problem is. It’s amazing how many consultancies and service providers dont do this!

As any good analyst will tell you, mixing your qualitative and quantitative data will give you a better picture. The numbers dont lie, but with in-context primary observations, they certainly cannot play tricks with your diagnosis.

A good diagnosis of the REAL challenge (not the first thing that came to light), is crucial to fixing any organisational funk.

SPECIFY

How many times have you seen people dive into fixing a problem without a proper plan? It happens… constantly. So it’s no wonder that after a clear Diagnosis, a clearly written specification of the solution is required.

There are a variety of ways to achieve this, but I strongly recommend a simple timeline chart, with objectives, deliverables, deliverable dates, accountabilities (whodunnit?), budgets & costs, and any special requirements.

GANTT charts, SMARTT objectives… there are lots of ways to divvy this up. The simple truth remains that if you have a written, agreed and practical plan of what should be done to solve the challenge, you’re far ahead of most others in the same position.

Sometimes a good consultant knows to deliver a solid plan, and then let the client implement it themselves!

SOLVE

After delivering a solid specification of the solution to a challenge, a good consultant will then step back, and let the client decide whether or not to put that solution in place themselves.

If the client decides they need your help, fantastic! But implementing that solution always follows two pathways – as either an advisor, or a contractor doing the work.

An advisor will work alongside the client or the clients team, to guide and nudge their work in the right direction. A contractor will become part of the team, or oversee a function, to deliver the specified solution.

Either way, the problem is solved directly. It can be quite costly to follow this route for clients, but it means the job gets done right first time, if your consultant is up to the task that is…

SUSTAIN

My personal bugbear with consultants is that they often fail to implement a ‘sustainable’ solution for their clients. Employees are the first to gripe that:

“Yeah yeah, once they’re out of the door, this will all disappear and we’ll go back to business as usual.”

If a specified solution is only possible with the consultants continued presence or input, it’s not sustainable, and you’re being ‘farmed’. Nobody likes that. Consultants shouldn’t be ‘farmers’. If you’re being farmed, fire your consultant. Every consultancy should have an end date!

A sustainable solution is one that permanently improves and changes your organisation. A consultant can help entrench this solution over the long term, but eventually, you shouldn’t need them. A strategy from the consultant for making this happen must be separate, and clear in its intent.

 

WHY IS THIS USEFUL?

As a process, this is incredibly useful because it allows both consultants and clients to know and understand where they are at in the process. Difficulties often follow for client-consultant relationships when either party loses track of where the work has gotten to.

Most importantly, it provides staging points for clients to decide which direction to take at any time. If they want to do the work themselves, or seek help – the choice remains (as it should do) with the client.

I have been helping fellow consultants and business owners use this methodology, with fantastic results. It often transforms difficult to identify services into clear cut, simple offerings that both consultants and client benefit from. If you’d like to have a chat about how it works, drop me a comment below!