Mindworks’ Weblog

Thinking Matters

Follow the money

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 7, 2008

You’ll recall the fellow management consultant with whom I discussed the negative value of Big Consultancy at the weekend.  Well, she’s been advised by a colleague to remove the post in which she defended the value of Big Consultancy (small consultancy is perfectly fine, you understand, particularly when their job involves equipping people to think more effectively).  IMO I comprehensively demolished her argument (which was that she can firefight service on failing projects in a way which public servants themselves can’t) by pointing out that, if the situation she described is correct, it’s because the public service has become over dependent on Big Consultants and this has reduced it’s own capabiity.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the fact that she has, in fact, deleted the post in question and my responses.  (Frankly, I think it’s because she couldn’t counter my argument and has nothing to do with her possibly losing her job.)

As I said in my earlier post, I fully understand why Big Consultants do what they do (it’s called ‘body shopping’ in the trade – selling in as many consultants as you can to work on a project).  They’re in business to make money – that’s what businesses are for.  If a customer is willing to pay you £3bn a year, and you’re in business, it would be insane not to take their money.  No  problem with that.  What I do have a problem with is the cognitive deficit it creates.  Hire other people to do your thinking for you, and you’re not thinking yourself. Eventually you forget how to do it altogether.  Rather like the humans in the new Pixar film, I understand.

I’m not going to go into all the ins and outs of this – of course it makes sense to hire people with specific expertise you don’t want in-house and of course you’ll have to pay market rates for that help.  But the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office are concerned about a system in which a government department is prepared to shell out £9.7m to build a website and £80K to learn the lessons from the Sydney Olympics (see various earlier posts).  Something is seriously wrong there.  Let’s hope someone is busy fixing it.

A PWC office

A PWC office


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