New data quality consultants ask me for advice all the time.
Some are “new” because they are just starting their career. Others are new because the recent economy has provided them the “opportunity” for a career in consulting.
Either way, when asked if I have one key piece of advice to offer, I respond immediately with:
“Shut Your Mouth.”
Understandably, an explanation is always required.
The Path of Least Resistance
My advice is sometimes misunderstood as:
“Just do as your told—don't rock the boat.”
I have been a consultant for most of my career and in various capacities, namely for the services group of software companies, for consulting firms, and also as an independent.
From my perspective, consultants provide extensive experience and best practices from successful implementations. Their goal is to help clients avoid common mistakes and customize a solution to their specific business needs.
Their primary responsibility is to make themselves obsolete as quickly as possible by providing mentoring, documentation, training, and knowledge transfer.
A consultant that chooses the path of least resistance by always agreeing with you is not worth the money you are paying them.
To quote a favorite (canceled) television show:
“If you are stupid, then surround yourself with smart people.
If you are smart, then surround yourself with smart people who will disagree with you.”
The Art of Communication
Perhaps inevitably, my advice then becomes misunderstood as:
“I shouldn't be afraid to speak my mind—and tell them like it is!”
Not so fast—put the bullhorn down—and slowly back away.
Communication is more art than science.
The ability to effectively communicate is an essential skill for all (and not just data quality) consultants.
More than anything else, effective communication requires (in fact, demands) excellent listening skills.
I often joke consultants shouldn't be allowed to speak for at least their first two weeks.
In other words—and yes, I am also talking to you, World's Foremost Expert Supercalifragilistic Consultant—there definitely needs to be less of you telling your clients what you think, and more of you listening to what your clients have to say.
You must seek first to understand your client's current environment from both the business and technical perspectives.
Only after you have achieved this understanding, will you then seek to be understood regarding your extensive experience of the best practices that you have seen work on successful data quality initiatives.
Can Consultants Lead?
My conversation in the comments section with Don Frederiksen, included my paraphrasing of Chapter 17 of the Tao Te Ching (since I literally own eight different English translations, please note I am quoting from possibly my all-time favorite, the “American poetic” translation by Witter Bynner), where I substituted the word leader with the word consultant:
A consultant is best
When people barely know that he exists,
Not so good when people obey and acclaim him,
Worst when they despise him.
‘Fail to honor people,
They fail to honor you;’
But of a good consultant, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’
Shut Your Mouth
Good communication is a bad mother—Shut Your Mouth!
I'm talking about becoming a better listener.
Can you dig it?