Consulting is hard:
Part 1

Matt Gauger

Bendyworks, July 2013

No really, consulting is really, really effing hard

Why is it hard?

Because it's not about how much code you can write in a day.

It's whether or not you're solving real problems.

Why this talk?

Bendyworks is a consultancy


You are a consultant

We thrive on solving problems and writing code.

But we're failing if we show up to a project and only write code.

What we need is a method for finding & solving the real problems among:

The Secrets of Consulting

In the past, we read The Secrets of Consulting for book club

Secrets of Consulting cover

We didn't all like this book, and we didn't all agree.

But the conversations this book caused were very valuable.

If you weren't a part of that book club, then you missed out on a huge part of Bendyworks learning to consult.

So let's talk about some of the lessons from the first chapter of The Secrets of Consulting.

Fair warning: Jerry Weinberg makes up all these "laws" that are really just names and funny stories to help you remember them later.

The First Rule of Consulting:

There's always a problem

The Second Rule of Consulting:

It is always a people problem.

Pop quiz:

Why do managers at companies hire us?

In the culture of management, the worst thing you can do is acknowledge that you have a problem that you can't handle yourself. If you really do need help, you need to sneak it in somehow without admitting in public that there is a problem at all.

— Secrets of Consulting

Offer improvement

aka The Ten Percent Law

If you promise too much, they'll never hire you.

(It would force them to admit there is a problem.)

Make them look good.

(Remember improv?)

It's always a people problem

Corollary to the Second Law of Consulting:

Whatever the client is doing, advise something else.

People close to a problem tend to keep repeating what didn't work the first time.

Never forget that they're paying you by the hour.

This doesn't mean milk them for as much time as possible.

Corollary to the First Law of Consulting:

You'll never accomplish anything if you care who gets the credit.

Make your partner look good. (Improv again!)

When an effective consultant is present, the client solves problems.

The Fourth Law of Consulting

If they didn't hire you, don't solve their problem.

Never forget that consulting is the art of influencing people at their request.


I think the 1st & 2nd laws are the only important ones:

There's always a problem

It is always a people problem.

Keep these in mind!

Lessons from the field

Show value rather than arguing

Sometimes convincing the client that one thing is better than another isn't the most important

They're paying as much for our culture and our values as they are our coding ability.

If our culture or values are challenged (ie, "well, we don't want you to write tests"), then be assertive in maintaining our values. That's what they're paying us for.

Meeting skills

Read these articles on meetings from Rands:

Learn who "The Ringer" is in any meeting

Share only what is necessary

Shared Terminology we use at Bendyworks:

Violent Agreement

"Technical Tap"

Feedback Loops

The Orange Juice Test

(from The Secrets of Consulting: Chapter 2)


Should I do another one of these?