Debunking the "Lumbergh Effect": How to Make the Most of a Consulting Assessment

Posted by David Crouch on Apr 10, 2017 5:39:35 PM

In ITIL, ITSM Consulting, ITSM Assessment

Jump with me into the Way Back Machine for a moment and take a ride back to 1999.  Remember the cult classic movie, “Office Space?”  A cadre of three friends conclude that “work sucks” when their officious boss, Bill Lumbergh, hires a duo of inept consultants to “improve” the software company.  The “Bobs,” as the two consultants are known, proceed to make all the wrong recommendations to downsize the firm. I like to call it the “Lumbergh Effect” – when a bad boss hires even worse consultants for all the wrong reasons. Is there any wonder the movie still resonates?  The two “Bobs” convey an element of truth when mediocre consultants are hired or when the wrong approach is taken to assessments.  But it does not have to be that way.  Read on to learn how to debunk the “Lumbergh Effect” and get the most out of a consulting assessment.

Common Objections to Assessments

We’ve probably heard them all – reasons why an organization would rather go on struggling with the same challenges and making the same mistakes over and over again instead of conducting an assessment.  Here are some of the common ones:

  • Why have a third-party assessment in first place?  What can somebody else tell us that we don’t already know?
  • Assessments take so much time . . . we don’t have time to sit with consultants. 
  • Why would we spend money on a consultant?  Wouldn’t it be better to use that money to buy more stuff or more people or give raises?  Happy hour?
  • A plan is great . . . but it will just sit on the shelf.  How do we take the plan and make it operational? How do we put it into practice?

All the objections typically boil down to some variation of the questions above.  Let’s tackle them one by one.

Outside Perspective

You know your organization, so you have an idea of where improvements need to take place, but your view is also inherently biased because you have some stake in the recommendations. This isn’t meant to question your integrity; it’s just a statement of fact.  A consultant serves as a neutral third party and brings an outside point of view.  An outside resource does not have the bias of internal politics or have to justify recommendations to your employees day-in and day-out.   In other words, a consultant can say things that you can’t.  A consultant can also shield you from criticism.  After all, when all is said and done, you still have to work with your colleagues every day. (Much more on the value of third-party objectivity in assessments here.)

Efficient Use of Resources

It is likely that you see so many opportunities for improvement that you just don’t know where to start.  A good consultant can help you benchmark and share what similarly-situated organizations are doing.  An assessment gives you a roadmap on where to direct your resources to get the greatest return on your investment. 

Time

“We just don’t have time to do an assessment.” Does this sound familiar?  There are normally two variations on the time argument.  Either your team believes they can conduct an assessment on their own but just never get around to it because it takes too much time, or they believe that if they hire outside consultants, they will need to spend a significant amount of time working with them.  To unpack this, consider an analogy:

I know how to work a saw, swing a hammer, and do basic home repair.  So technically I have the skills to add a new addition to our house.  But for me to do it will take months longer than if I hire a professional contractor.  It is also likely that I will make some mistakes, which means I will have to do a certain amount of re-work.  All of which means I’ll spend more money and more time.   By contrast, the contractor will know the latest building techniques to get the job done more quickly and effectively.  They will have access to professional-grade tools and products.  The contractor will also be familiar with the latest code and building requirements.  I could invest the time and money into acquiring the same tools and knowledge as the contractor.  But it just doesn’t make sense for me to become an expert in home contracting when I already have a full-time job.

If your team is performing an assessment on their own then they aren’t doing something else.  Each position on your team was hired to meet to meet a business need; if they are doing an assessment, who is focusing on that business need?  Where can you spend time and money to get the most value for your company? 

Even if you have a superb team, assessments will take longer to do internally because they are not a core capability.  They have to develop the capability and then execute, whereas a consultant already has the capability and can execute immediately. 

The phrase has almost become cliché, but I’ll say it anyway: go slow to go fast.  Working with a consultant on an assessment takes some time, but probably not as long as doing it yourself.   It does not have to be onerous. 


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Overall Money Spent

There is a tendency to see investment in assessments as an opportunity cost.  That is, instead of spending money on consulting, the money would do more good somewhere else, perhaps on hiring additional staff or buying additional equipment.  The reality is that throwing people and tools at a broken process usually will not fix any problems.  In fact, doing so could actually exacerbate existing problems.

Think it would be less expensive to go it alone?  If you compare the total amount you would spend to perform an assessment internally it will typically be more expensive than engaging a consultant.   When you factor in the salary cost of ramping up resources and executing, along with the trade-off cost of those resources not performing their primary functions, your organization will actually spend more for the same activity.   For reasons mentioned before, it has the added risk that the result will be lower quality.

Caveats

Nothing turns people off of assessments more than consultants who charge you a lot of money then tell you to turn to page 269 of the textbook and fill out a template.  In fact, sometimes it seems that consulting firms do a better job of figuring out how to bill you than of actually understanding your business and solving your problems.  Even the big “brand name” firms are guilty of this (you all know who I’m talking about here). To a certain extent, it makes sense to start with a template.  Few problems are unique butterflies that require totally new approaches.  But there is a difference between starting with a template and ending with one.  High quality consulting means getting the most bang for your buck by understanding where the pain points are and which you can address in the shortest amount of time. 

Beware of fancy-sounding deliverables and plans that look like they belong in a college textbook.  As a friend of mine says, “if it looks like bunk and sounds like bunk, it probably is bunk.”  And if your consultant is wearing boat shoes or golf sweaters at a Friday afternoon meeting, run! . . Run fast! 

A good consultant does not make recommendations in a vacuum.  Instead, they consider the organizational context and create a plan the can be implemented.  A plan that gathers dust on the shelf is no plan at all.

Making the Case

Am I preaching to the choir here?  Maybe you already understand the benefits of conducting an independent assessment, but you are finding it difficult to convince senior leadership or your team.  Here are some points on getting buy-in:

Assessment vs. Audit

Start with an understanding of what you are really trying to accomplish.  An assessment will identify your current state and suggest how to improve.  The key outcome of an assessment is a plan on how to improve.   By contrast, an audit will tell you want you are doing wrong and what you have to do to become compliant. Both improvement and compliance are important.  But there is a big difference in being compliant and being effective and efficient. 

Team Involvement

Sometimes teams get nervous at the prospect of bringing somebody in from the outside.  This is understandable.  Remember Office Space?  In the movie, the consultants recommended firing all the hard-working intelligent employees and promoting the least motivated.   Don’t subject your team to the Bobs. Instead, let your team know about the assessment in advance, why you are doing it, and what to expect.  Explain that you want them to provide their complete and raw feedback.  (We call it the “unvarnished truth.”) This is the only way to get an accurate picture. It also helps establish trust in the process and in the results.

"That'd be Grrrrrreat."

Office Space is undoubtedly a funny movie, and if you haven’t seen it, it is worth your time.  But it does a disservice to high quality consultants.  Assessments can help your organization in a number of areas including IT Service Management, process mapping, business and IT Strategy, and IT Financial Management

If you still need more support, we can help you make the case.   Just give us a call.  In the words of the immortal Lumbergh “That’d Be Grrrrrreat.”



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