What no-axe said

almost always because somebody on the selling side had gone ahead and billed the customer for what the customer wanted
Written by Paul Murphy, Contributor
Poor Maisie, always getting invoked by indirection... -;)

Here's a part of a comment made by "no-axe-to-grind" last week:


To use my (poor) analogy again, if Joe Farmer takes his Chevy pickup in to have a towing package installed and the guys says, "you know, you really need to ditch the Chevy and buy a Ford with a PowerStroke Diesel". Now while he may be 100% right, I doubt seriously if his suggestion will be followed. In fact the most likely outcome is that Joe Farmer will wave goodbye and find someone that will install the tow package he wanted on his Chevy. Of course the "loser" in this was the guy selling and installing tow packages because his advice was way outside the customers biased comfort zone.

I agree with his perception of the most likely outcome, but not on who loses in this. As I said in my response:

The sales guy who suggested Ford was right, and right wins in the long run. The customer, meanwhile loses: spending money to ratify a poor choice and having to live with it afterward.

Now I'll admit first that I'm getting older and secondly that I'm starting to wonder just how long that long run is, but I'll stand by the statement that the loser in his scenario was the customer, not the guy who lost the sale.

This is a fundamental conflict in consulting: I have worked in consulting's Ivy League and something like nine out of ten times we were brought in by someone in the client organization who had an agenda and wanted us to defend or present it. These guys usually made the right answer perfectly clear from the beginning and selected consultants willing to agree.

In some cases, that can make sense even if the client's wrong because you're being hired to advocate a particular position and no one's making any pretences to the contrary. Most often, however, we were being sold to some steering committee as honest brokers coming in to do a fair review while being told in no uncertain terms by the IT director or whoever was abusing the company's budget by hiring us, to come to the one and only possible Right Answer.

In one specific case, for example, I got brought in as the outside consultant on an outsourcing renewal in which the director owed his career to IBM and didn't seem to have the first clue about being responsible to the organization paying his salary. In large part as a result of the out-sourcer's willingness to do what he wanted regardless of the client organisation's actual needs, the key software development effort had inappropriate goals, was being executed on inappropriate gear using inappropriate tools, and was roughly $100 million in the hole after six years of complete non delivery.

In this case everything you could think of had gone wrong - and almost always because somebody on the selling side had gone ahead and billed the customer for what the customer wanted: the equivalent of installing a ten ton towing package on a two cylinder Hillman.

So who was wrong? I reported the facts as I saw them: the out-sourcing firm had a responsibility to differentiate the client from the guy who hired them and tell that client the truth: that what the IT director wanted wasn't what the client needed and anyway couldn't be done on the IT director's chosen platform within the time and budget available.

Instead they milked the taxpayer for something north of a hundred million bucks, froze program delivery for eight to ten years, and left the department's front line people -and the people they were supposed to serve- facing unnecessary risks and frustrations for a period of at least ten years.

But how did this work out for me, you ask? I believe the director is still there - and I haven't left him any messages asking for a call back because I'm pretty sure neither he, nor his friends at the outsourcer, nor anyone else they have influence with, would return a call from me.

So maybe no-axe was right? I hope not, I think it's about more than money - and totally and unequivocally despise the bottom feeders who make highly successful careers out of following their customer's instructions when they have to know that those instructions are not in the best interests of that customer's employer.

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