Does a client tell an agile consultant what they need, or does it work the other way around?



Does a client tell an agile consultant what they need, or does it work the other way around?

I think it works the other way around, but in my experience, it is more complicated than that.

Many clients initiate the consulting engagement with an agenda, so you are contracted to deal with specific things within the environment by arrangement and agreement.

That said, the mark of a great agile consultant is their ability to diagnose what is going wrong and the willingness to raise these issues as opportunities for growth and progression. You are committed to delivering maximum value to the customer, and as such, it is your responsibility to accurately and effectively diagnose problem areas that they may not even be aware of.

Align recommendations with desired outcomes.

So, you’re contracted to do X, and as part of that initial discussion you are provided with insights into the organization’s strategic goals and objectives.

That is your core focus as an agile consultant, but as you meander through the environment you are going to identify problem areas or potential opportunities that would help the client achieve their goals and objectives if those elements were addressed.

This is where you start to contribute significant value to customers, and although you weren’t initially contracted to deal with the problems that you identified, you may well find that your agile consulting engagement is extended or expanded to address the problem areas.

Use your time effectively.

I am generally contracted to a client for between two and three weeks at a time.

They are short, high-impact engagements where my focus lies in solving a specific problem, providing insight and recommendations for the team to implement, or paving the way for the adoption of a new or more complex style of working.

It isn’t much time.

An agile coach may spend months, even years, in a client environment so they tend to be the ones that pick up on problem areas and attempt to help the organization deal with that, over time, rather than attacking the problem and developing the solution.

So, as an agile consultant, you want to use your time effectively.

Look to where you can contribute the most value and point a spotlight on the areas that are going to prevent the team from achieving their goals. You will either be contracted to address that, or they may work with another partner to resolve that problem in their own time.

Either way, they will be grateful for your observation and assistance. Your expertise, observations, and recommendations will help the organization prioritize their consulting spend moving forward and allow them to derive the maximum returns on their agile consulting or coaching investment.

Partner effectively.

Usually, the reason why I and other agile consultants are contracted is because the organization have identified agile as a priority, and they are committed to getting better at it.

Agile, in and of itself, does not present or contribute any value to the organization.

Simply becoming better at something which doesn’t contribute value to their organization is a waste of time, effort, and money.

As an agile consultant, you want to ensure that you are helping them identify opportunities or problems and working with people within the organization – like a scrum master or internal agile coach – to transform these problems into opportunities.

To really move the needle on the metrics that matter to the organization, and the people you are partnering with throughout your consulting engagement.

You may find an aspiring agile leader disguised as a manager and recruit them to help you remove impediments or influence more senior leaders to pay attention to a problem and provide the necessary resources or investment to solve the problem.

In most instances, a leadership vacuum results in an agile coach being brought into the environment to help lead initiatives and build momentum for the teams. That’s great, but as an agile consultant, I am loathe to ignore an opportunity for the organization to develop internal agile capabilities and it seems a better value proposition to help identify potential agile leaders and develop their capability.

As the great quote goes, ‘start where you are, use what you have, do what you can’.

Partner with people. Find ways to develop internal capabilities. Find ways to help the organization outsource the very things that would deliver competitive advantage if they developed that capability within the organization.

Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s time consuming. Yes, it requires deep commitment.

But it’s worth it. Personally, and professionally, so develop relationships and build partnerships.

Limit your work in progress.

As you become more successful and effective, you are going to experience greater demand for your time and capabilities.

Ordinarily, this gets the consulting agency excited and they hire more people which in turn results in the need for more clients, and before you know it, they are in a death spiral.

The quality of consultants they hire becomes diminished with time, because they aren’t hiring the best consultants, they are hiring the available consultants. As the organization hires more people, they need more work to feed the monster, and so the pool of available consultants becomes smaller and the quality of the consultant diminishes even more.

One day, you wake up, and the consultancy has a poor reputation in the market and the house of consulting cards falls down. That doesn’t serve clients, it doesn’t serve the consultancy, and it doesn’t serve consultants.

So, limit your work in progress.

Whether you are an independent consultant or an agency, you need to limit your work in progress to maintain the standard of work you are delivering and to genuinely help clients make a difference.

To have a meaningful impact in the environments you serve, you need to focus on the quality of work that you can produce, and manage the flow of that work effectively, just as we consult our clients to do.

So, in closing, I think agile consulting engagements BEGIN with what the client has identified as a priority, but as you engage, you begin to bring things to their attention that are valuable, actionable, and will optimize their returns on consulting investment.

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