Posts tagged with overdelivery


July 13th, 2010

Ah, this is what consultants are famous for. The ability to turn a simple, one page document into fifty page rendition of tactical overheads, the extrapolation of a simple spreadsheet into a macros-rendered self populating instrument of financial terror and the fifty slides long presentation with a full graphical analysis of the the a three item dataset.

Clients hate it but they know they have to go through it. They get the PowerPoint eyes; glazed over, bored and presenting to arduously take notes whilst doodling guillotines in the corner of their own brand slide print outs. “How much longer?” they cry silently, knowing full well that the enticing pie charts and flow diagrams will bemuse and baffle, leaving them not only exhausted but feeling stupid and confused.

This, my friends, is the ploy. This is why we do it. Create enough supporting documents to leave the client in a state of bewilderment about the project and roll it round in six weeks to make it look like we saved the entire business, not simply revamped their servers. Spreadsheets are the best for this. You will go far in consulting if your spreadsheeting skills are good and indeed an elaborate spreadsheet model is a powerful vehicle to deliver confusion.

If you think the client is the only one suffering, think again. Some poor junior recruit sat up all night aligning all of the 508 bullet points and centring graphs and making UML diagrams just for it to be ignored forever. I’ve been on the receiving end of this. Asked to help a colleague choose a pub for our office Christmas drinks, I rattled up a spreadsheet with the name of the pub, the price and availability. I highlighted the best venue by using red text. Five minutes after sending it off, I received a frantic phonecall. Apparently this wasn’t “her vision’. Apparently she “saw” a slide deck for each pub, the pros and cons, the price, pictures and contact details and clear indication of my choice. Apparently she’s on the wrong project. I, for one, hardly had time to eat never mind recreate the corporate equivalent of War and Peace about Christmas drinks.

Never the less, as young and willing to please as I am I put five slides together with a one liner about the pub, a photo from each site and then faded out each undesirable option so that the chosen venue was clear. I was baffled as to why this was necessary considering the only variable was price and only one place met our criteria. I sent it back to her.

Upon checking my work the next day I found an email sent at 0217 with her “few changes’ included. The deck as now 15 slides long, had an intro page, contents and a 2×2 detailing the best option in the upper right hand quadrant. Oh, and a Christmas tree on the cover page. Please bear in mind that no one bar us was ever going to see this document. I don’t think that the pub was ever booked.

A more recent conversation with a manager comes to mind. We were setting up a fileplan for a clients shared document management system. Upon reading my brief of the project he suggested I should refer to the fileplan as a “document knowledge management system” because “It sounds more expensive” He seemed proud that he had to ask for a word count extension when tendering for the project. Twenty thousand words was ten thousand short of his bid-novella.

Overdelivery really is an amazing talent and skill.   As highlighted by a fellow consultant, the black arts of document-to-tome transmogrification and verbosity and circumlocution expertise will get you far indeed.  The problem is that it seems to go all out against everything else we’ve been taught in education with struct word limits and warnings against overcomplication.  My own academic background drilled into me the importance of being exact, specific and concise. I remember having a draft paper ripped up because I dared use adjectives in my abstract. I’m continually amazed by what my colleagues churn out, how impressive it looks and how little it says and I struggle in their footsteps. The problem of overdelivery has innocent enough its roots. For one, the employees are driven and ambitious people with the tender ego of the teachers pet and need to outdo their colleagues-cum-classmates at every turn. The industry itself feeds on their employes attitudes and not only awards promotions and bonuses on clint work but on ‘extra’ work for the firm, to be completed in whatever’s left of your weekends and evenings. Most people who work in consulting find themselves there because they are willing to go the extra mile – do another proofread, recheck the calculations, make something elegant as well as practical. Such attitudes shine through in school and university when you’re the only person with them in a hall of 100 other students but in the consulting office, all the employes are the class star. To get noticed, you have to even further. Its a vicious self propagating positive feedback cycle which management milk to their hearts content.

I, for one, refuse to be unproductive. Making a twelve page document when two sides is all that’s required is a waste of my time, the clients time and the client’s money. Furthermore I don’t come cheap – I’m not going to have taxpayers contributions wasted on me making a pretty slide deck when I could be doing something more useful and relevant. Having voiced my opinion to a few members of senior staff I received all five stages of grief (and ruined promotion opportunities for life)but now, thankfully, people are no longer asking me to review their macros or getting angry when I refuse. The law of diminishing returns says no. If it’s not worth it, don’t do it.