Consulting: The Four Letter Word

Is Consulting Services a ‘four-letter-word’?

Whether we like it or not, at least within the technology industry, “consulting services” has turned into a (proverbial) “four-letter word.”

The key problem is that, more often than not, what is sold under the banner of “consulting services” are product enablement or process consulting services which don’t necessarily deliver value to the organization receiving them or tangible benefits to the customers they serve.

In this article, we examine why consulting is getting talked about as a “four letter word” and some of the things that we can do to turn this around.

We just got hit with a ‘drive by consultation’

Consider the following scenario outlined by Brian Lenner in his post ITSM Software is not a Silver Bullet:

“Our IT organization must define all the service management processes and procedures to meet the organization and business needs, but in many cases we do not know what they are, and we don’t have the time and/or expertise to do it.  We end up engaging ITSM consultants to come in and define the processes we need.  Of course, the consultants, wind up working in a vacuum with no access to in-house expertise, but still need to produce something quickly.  In the end, we get ‘stock’ generic processes that don’t match the way our IT is set up.”

So the consulting contract may be over, but what did they really get? In many cases, clients are left with little more than new documentation to maintain that becomes obsolete upon publishing it. As a result, the true cost of the “consulting” delivered is often much higher than what was paid for those services.

We’re doing ITIL, what more do you need?!

In some cases, the services delivered are advertised as being “ITIL compliant”, but as David Mainville points out in Implementing ITSM: The 3 Things to Remember:

There is more to designing processes than adopting ITIL. ITIL tells you what to do at a high level. Best practices, like ITIL, are devoid of any specific organizational or technology requirements. You have to take the best practice and adopt it to your company.

While it’s fine to reference the ITIL framework, unless it goes farther, it’s likely to end in a manner which is less than satisfactory.

Don’t recreate the wheel!

As David Mainville mentioned in Implementing ITSM: The 3 Things to Remember:

You have to take the best practice and adopt it to your company.

This is an easy recommendation to write and it sounds simple, but it’s not (necessarily) easy to do. Why? Often times, your staff may not have the experience of actually doing the work required to “adopt and adapt.” David goes on in Implementing ITSM: The 3 Things to Remember to talk about some of the items that need to be considered.

There are a lot of specifics that you need to address: What service management tools are you using? How does the tool need to be configured (functional specifications)? What are the specific workflows for your company? What policies do you have in place? What services are you managing and who is responsible for them? … This list goes on and on.”

Rather than put your people into a position where they need to figure out how to do this for themselves, you can start by retaining experts to bootstrap this process and/or provide the training/coaching your team requires to be successful.

Indeed, in his blog post The Biggest Failure in ITSM Implementations, Tony Richards describes this very thing:

One approach that is often used to help implement service management is the engagement of outside experts.  This is used quite extensively and our firm has been a successful part of that solution.  However, this might not be as effective in the longer-term if the IT organization brings in outside help but doesn’t transfer the knowledge and know-how to their own people.  There are many examples of successful ITSM projects that lose traction because the expertise of ITSM is not incorporated in the IT and business culture.

The best part of this is that you’ll not only get the result, but you have also upgraded the capability of your team in the process.


All consulting services are not created equal. By being selective about which services you buy and how you use them, it’s possible to extract a high degree of value from them. In so doing, you can help avoid consulting being heard like a “four letter word” around your organization.

Guest article by Kenneth Gonzalez

David Mainville

David Mainville

David Mainville, CEO and co-founder of Navvia, is a passionate advocate of Service Management and a frequent presenter, blogger and well known member of the ITSM community. With over 35 years of experience, David has held progressively senior technical and management roles allowing him to “connect the dots” between the Business and IT. At Navvia, David leads the charge to bring innovative ITSM solutions to market focusing on Product Development, Marketing and Operations.

• Posted by David Mainville on Mar 18, 2014
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