Consulting firms introduced methodologies, starting with IT-based methodologies, in an effort to codify the key steps in a typical project, thus being able to deploy less experienced resources who, equipped with a methodology, would be able to complete the
project with minimal previous experience.
Methodologies used to be a significant criterion for clients when it came to selecting a consulting firm. I remember in the 1990′s long debates with a client (for whom the firm I was employed by at the time was implementing PeopleSoft) over whether in fact
having one expert on our team who knew how to implement the system sufficiently compensated for our lack of a formal methodology (which the firm did not have at that time) as he saw a methodology as being extremely important to the success of his project.
He was wrong – the methodology wasn’t the key – but we were wrong too! More than just a single expert on the technology was needed on the team! Unlike this particular client, few companies examine the fine details of the methodology itself, and try to determine
the merits of one consulting firm’s methodology over another, but the mere existence of one (and a comprehensive slide deck and glossy brochures to prove it) was often a deciding factor in selecting a consultant.
Nowadays, every consulting firm has a methodology for everything. Clients no longer even probe this area in the selection process – they expect that it is a given. But just because a project is using a methodology does not guarantee its success. Each project
has a unique combination of resources, business environment and stakeholders. Creating a project plan, and managing to it, even if it is based on a methodology, requires judgement, skill and knowledge that only come with experience. Experience which can never
be replaced by a methodology.
A methodology is in essence nothing more than a generic project plan which provides the project manager with a checklist of tasks to be completed. It streamlines the project planning process, but is not a shortcut to successful project completion.
A methodology is sometimes likened to a cake recipe, with the assumption being that if it is followed exactly it will produce the same results time and time again. But even a recipe is only foolproof if the correct ingredients are used, the baking environment
(type of oven, altitude) is standardized, and the baker is familiar with various techniques and understands how to follow the instructions. In the case of a consulting project, where the ingredients are the resources, and the environment is the organisation,
these other factors are certainly not standardised from project to project. Using a methodology without experience is like letting kids lose in the kitchen – usually a mess results!
Banks hiring consultants must realise that the more emphasis that a consulting firm places on their methodology during the sales process, the more likely it is that the methodology is being used as a crutch for an inexperienced team. Therefore buyers of
consulting services must always focus on the capability of the individual resources to apply and adapt the methodology, rather than the methodology itself.