I have strong opinions regarding software consulting and consulting companies, which is probably no surprise as I seem to have a strong opinion about most things :). It’s not a bad thing, makes for some lively conversation over drinks, but it is also a bit of a pain as it makes it hard to choose what to write about. I’ll regale you with my serious thoughts regarding consulting in another post (don’t forget to subscribe to my feed so you don’t miss it) – today we’ll try to maintain a bit of a lighter tone.
A little while ago I read an interesting book called “The Nomadic Developer”, if you are considering going into consulting I recommend you read it (although you would appreciate it more if you’ve already worked in software consulting). The book has some decent advice and information for budding/existing software consultants, but the thing that really caught my eye was the humorous classification of consulting firms found at the beginning of the book. It was titled “The Seven Deadly Firms” and I thought I would share it with you for a bit of fun as well as adding one more classification of my own to bring the total up to eight. I will quote and paraphrase as necessary – here we go.
BOZO is a place with well-intentioned people who really want to please their clients. The only downside to BOZO is it doesn’t have the slightest clue about how to achieve that goal. BOZO says yes to everything: “Yes, of course we will cut the estimate.” “Yes, of course, we will lower our bill rate.” The idea is to get the deal at all costs. To summarize, BOZO has a sales-driven culture that lacks the ability to leverage any sort of delivery capability it accidentally hires (thought from Skorks: that would have to be one of the most buzzword driven sentences ever, how can we “leverage” that).
Firm founded on its ability to motivate software developers by fear. Micromanagement, abuse and/or Machiavellian management techniques are the tools this firm uses to generate mundane and uninspired results for clients. The best way to describe how FEAR stays in business despite such deplorable working conditions and treatment is to reference what is known as the Stockholm Syndrome (thought from Skorks: the funny/sad thing is that any consultancy can accidentally/purposely take on aspects of FEAR Consulting in certain situation (financial/project pressures etc.)).
The Body Shop
Contracting firm that pretends to be a consultancy. Sadly, not all consultants involved have been informed of this “minor” detail. The Body Shop has zero corporate culture. No events, no infrastructure and no interaction with fellow “consultants”. Working for a Body Shop you run significant risk of getting the sack after completing your first gig if there is no work immediately available (_thought from Skorks: does anyone else find it funny that the body shop is an actual company, unfortunately all they do is sell skin care products, but who knows software consulting could be in their future_).
Some firms compete on quality. CHEAP consulting isn’t one of those firms. This is a great place to work as long as eating and having a roof over your head are not huge priorities for you. CHEAP Consulting firms execute entire projects using hordes of low-cost developers, rather than small numbers of good ones. Ironically, this makes their projects, after all is said and done, come in far more over budget than the firms they competed against in the first place. The main feature of CHEAP is the heavy use of the word resource. (_thought from Skorks: and you know how I feel about the word resource, anyway, probably not too many of these around in the first world even cheap developers are reasonably expensive if the cost of living is high enough_).
Personality Cult Consulting
The only drink that this firm has in the refrigerator is kool-aid. And if you refuse to drink it – that is, decide not to indulge in the cult of local hero worship – you might not have a future here. Critical thinking skills are not the highest priority. Frequently, a person who combines charisma with a good measure of talents finds himself able to start a consulting company that capitalizes on these traits. What starts out as a small group of like-minded people with a mission grows into a creature called PC Consulting. Discussions in such a place are rife with appeals to authority; that is, if the cult leader says something, it not only is given a lot of weight, but is treated as gospel (thought from Skorks: you know what I said about me having strong opinions, I cringe at how quickly I, and most decent developers I know, would get their ass handed to them in a place like this).
Smelzer and Melzer Accounting
Even the owners of this place, an accounting partnership, wonder how they ended up in the “computers” business. They know they make money from it but are unsure why, and frankly, they are not sure they trust these “kids” who have a lot of scary ideas. In most cases, accounting firms are run by accountants. And accountants frequently have significant issues with the way software tends to be developed. Software development methodology is chosen, based on what is perceived as predictable and developers often become the scapegoats when the expectations of predictability fail to materialize (_thought from Skorks: this one is easy, Big Four anyone?_).
“Push the SKU” Consulting
“Services” arm of a product company that ends up acting as a de-facto sales force for the product, while at the same time, getting paid by the hour from the client to sell…ahem, I mean… “provide independent advice”. The incentive system tends to make this not the place for development of software that works independent of a particular product. Such an organization is not always a good place for software developers who have the interest of the client at heart first and foremost (thought from Skorks: does your software do X? “Sure, sure it does, it just needs some minor configuration …“).
Band Of Freelancers (My Contribution)
A bunch of friends decide to form a company to build the next great product. But of course building products takes time and you have to live in the meantime, so everyone picks up some occasional consulting work to “keep the lights on”. The only problem is, occasional means pretty much permanent and it is difficult to write a product while working full time on something else. So, all the “founders” keep on consulting and no product ever materializes, so the company turns into a perpetual band-of-freelancers consulting company. The real danger is that the “founders” actually do well as consultants and are able to hire more people at which point there is a real danger of this company turning into BOZO, Body Shop or Personality Cult consulting.
There you go, humorous – yes, but also rather accurate, wouldn’t you agree? Of course all those are examples of potentially dysfunctional consulting companies. There are plenty of big and small consultancies (admittedly mostly smaller) that are great places to work, treat their people well and approach their software development with skill and wisdom. The thing to be aware of is that no matter how good a consulting company is, most will exhibit at least some aspects of the above 8 at one point or another. The trick is to know whether or not, it is just a bad patch – soon corrected and forgotten – or whether it is becoming more of a permanent situation. Anyways, go check out the book if you want to get the full descriptions as well as tips for recognising if you might, infact, be working for one of these companies. If you do work for a software consultancy, how would you classify the company you work for? Does it by any chance fall into one of the 8 categories above?
On an even lighter note, is it just me or does anyone else ever misspell the word consulting as consluting, can be a little embarrassing if you do it in any kind of semi-official document. The other one is conlusting which also works but is not quite as good :).
Images by orkboi and Venn Diagram