In Part 1 of “That’s Why You’re Here,” I recounted a story from Alan Weiss’ book, Million-Dollar Consulting, from his early days as a consultant. Mr. Weiss had provided three options to his client for conducting a study, and then asked the client which option he preferred. In short, the executive responded, “That’s why you’re here.”
As Project Managers, we’re consultants first, Project Managers second. We’re paid to listen; were paid to offer options; we’re paid to provide precise recommendations; and we’re obligated (if we intend to collect our fee) to explain exactly what will occur should the client accept our recommendation. I sometimes chide my clients, tongue-in-cheek, that he can choose to accept my recommendation or not; but at the end of the day I get paid the same. The point is, that I always made a solid recommendation complete with a full explanation of the likely results of him accepting my recommendation. That’s much different than posing several options to him, and putting the onus on him to make the final decision – often an uninformed final decision.
I’m old enough in our profession to remember the days when technologists made the decisions on how the systems would work, designed the systems, and then told the end-user how the systems were to be used. The systems that we built were technically proficient, but they were most often not user-friendly. On more than one occasion I heard the words, “That’s what we asked for, but that’s not what we wanted.”
In the current age of systems development, business needs now drives the projects, not the technologists. Yet here’s what I have consistently observed over the years. In requiring that business drive the project, many Project Managers abdicate their consulting role on the project, and become “order-takers,” acting as if the client is the expert in systems delivery. The expectation is that the client will tell them what to do, and they wait eagerly for direction from the client. Then when they implement the result of an uninformed client decision, they can tell the client that they only did what they were asked to do.
Think I’m exaggerating? It’s not that long ago that I watched the Congressional hearings, with several IT contractor executives being grilled on the failure of the launch of the new Obamacare website in October 2013. Obviously I don’t know what went on behind the scenes of the project for the preceding three years; but from where I sat on the outside looking in, it appeared to be a classic situation of consulting organizations acting like “order-takers” and not consultants. I was appalled when I heard one of the executives testify (something akin to) that she didn’t feel it was her place to warn the agency of the consequences of implementing the system before it was completely ready.
Project managers, wake up! It’s not all about you.
 Weiss, Alan Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice. 1992. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998, p.24. Print.
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