Because us consultants are often bought in as experts in our field, it's easy to fall into the trap of assuming we know early what solution we will be putting in place for a client. However it's just that: a trap. It's fine to make a decision quickly, but you must also be willing to change that decision quickly when new details become clear.
Note: In this post I am referring to software consulting (both functional and technical) but this applies equally to any situation where you're learning about somebody and their work. I'd argue this particular article isn't even about consulting - it's just a good habit.
The quote "Well when events change, I change my mind. What do you do?", or variations of it, have been around for years. It might have been Keynes, or Churchill, or Paul Samuelson but either way, it's a quote that resonates with me. It serves as a good reminder that our mind isn't perfect, and our decisions must therefore not be perfect either. We need to recognise that imperfection and when it's appropriate, we should be comfortable changing our approach to a problem.
Why do we need to change our mind?
For starters, we're more biased than we'd like to admit. We bring our previous work to each new engagement - indeed, that's what can make us so valuable! - but your current project isn't your previous project. What worked well last month might not fit this month.
A long while ago I implemented new membership systems for two very similar organisations. They each used multiple systems - the same systems at each organisation! - and were in the same industry. During the first project we integrated two of these systems in a way that saved them quite a bit of time and made it easier to engage with their customers.
During the second implementation, we discussed the theory of this integration with the client's project team. They were excited by the possibilities, so we started building a similar integration using the knowledge learned in the prior engagement. However, due to differences in how other parts of the organisation operated, our integration was not going to work anywhere near as well.
Our assumption was that we knew what would work "best" and had previous work to lean on to help our case. Ourinitial questioning and investigation work was done under that pretense and at face value the client agreed and could see benefits. Digging in to the detail proved us wrong, and a new approach was called for.
It goes to show that no matter how much expertise you have in a given area, you always have room to learn more and you can always change your approach. If you realise this early your client is going to appreciate your experience even more!
This post is part 3 of the Good Consulting series:
- Why curiosity and inquisitiveness make for a good consultant
- Why compassion is non-negotiable for good consultants
- We need to change our mind more readily.