It’s a year since I returned to the direct consulting world after leaving Axios Systems, where I was head of global services. I’ve been a ‘consultant’ mostly since 1994 and the striking thing for me coming back into this area is how much the ITSM world is and has changed, which is reflected by what I now do mostly – media, podcasts, TV, mentoring, troubleshooting, speaking and events. I still work on some big projects, but the demand to me is shifting away from ‘ITIL’ Consulting in a way that is both refreshing and challenging.  ITIL itself is much more under scrutiny and that’s not a bad thing, however the real shift is the fact that there is far less desire for large projects that don’t have any objectives or governance and which must need a battalion of ‘ITIL Consultants’ to take the helm…

For me that is very positive – I’ve never really done much ‘ITIL’ consulting – true I operate in this area, but most of what I do and have done has been to provide guidance on people, management, organisational structure, project management, governance, comms, recruitment, etc. This has always been in contrast to the urban myth that buying in an  ‘ITIL Expert’ will make everything better, although often this doesn’t guarantee that the ‘expert’ has much real experience.

To me true ‘Consulting’ is about providing short pieces of guidance and support, to help organisations get on with helping themselves, not to help the consulting organisations help themselves to loads of days and fees… That might sound like turkeys voting for Christmas (and short-term assignments don’t make for a great business model), but it’s what I believe.

Let me give you my example of what I think Consultants should do – the ‘Mary Poppins’ theory. (Yes I know it sounds a bit naff but the analogy works…)

In the movie ‘Mary Poppins’ you have a dysfunctional family who can’t see their own problems staring them in the face. Mary Poppins appears as their Nanny and helps them to see what they are doing wrong and what they need to do. They sort out their issues, the wind changes and she moves on… (actually they don’t even say ‘thanks’ but that’s just tough, the job is done). Although she does use some ‘magic’ to get the kids on board, all the real influencing is done magic-free through discussion…

So for me it’s always better that the consultant ‘helps their client to help themselves’ to be able to implement and carry out the changes in strategy and direction that they seek in order to improve. This in contrast to just ‘buying in’ resource and expertise to deliver it for them. As we all know organisations and their people need to engage with change in order to achieve it, particularly if culture and working methods need challenging. It also seems a bit odd that anyone would need to consult on ITIL, given the vast amount of content that is now available on the topic – however that is more to do with how the books don’t give enough clear guidance on practical implementation.

I know of course that many (especially large) organisations will need extra resources to help with big change programmes, which will require contractors and interim roles for delivery. However I think it’s healthy if consultancy is seen and used in its pure form – i.e. to provide external and independent advice and expertise to guide individuals and organisations to make things happen themselves. The consultant’s skill is to help them to see what they need to do and how to do this – particularly if this requires some conciliation and steering to bring together different viewpoints and agendas.

So you may also say that this is me writing and justifying my own position and approach – I can’t deny that’s partially true. However I do also feel that the over-use of ‘ITIL Expert’ and ‘ITIL Consultancy’ has actually damaged the true consultancy brand, so I think it’s a good time to be clear about what activities and value should be expected and delivered by consultants.

Magic isn’t required, but certainly tact and diplomacy are, as well as good comms and influencing skills – and maybe the odd spoonful of sugar helps too…


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