A common selling point for many consultancies and contractors are in fact their unique or specialized methodologies and tools. What one often finds under closer inspection of these methods however, is that the vast majority of them are fairly similar to a handful of almost universally common approaches. One firm’s specialized methods for example, as published on their website under different service areas, are actually all the same approach with only a handful of words changed and the color scheme altered within each one.
A firm’s methodologies are often touted as a differentiator and certainly possessing a consistent approach is better than having none at all. But for many firms, the methodology, and the extensive training that firm’s provide their consultants in the methodology represent an inadvertent mechanism for institutionalizing mediocrity. They represent a device to eliminate spectacular failures but occasionally displace intellect and common sense in unskilled consultants. On one project for example, a firm’s consultants provided the client with a draft list of interview questions for identifying areas to cut costs. It was clear almost immediately that the template was from the firm’s toolkit and included a significant number of questions that were unrelated to the effort. The firm’s consultants were essentially asking the client to apply the intellectual capital and expertise to the effort.
Pre-defined methodologies are helpful, but the best firms and consultants recognize them for what they really are - a starting point. They represent mechanisms that help guide and accelerate efforts but if applied without customization by unskilled practitioners in a public sector environment, they typically result in minimal actual progress. A canned method applied by a general resource often misses the art within the science of change, the subtle course corrections required on an almost daily basis to guide efforts successfully forward.