When you don't need a consultant

When you don't need a consultant
Will Luton

By Will Luton

March 12th 2013 at 12:21PM

Consultant Will Luton on when you do - and don't - need outside help from consultants

This month I was going to write about why you need a consultant. However, as a consultant, I thought you might think I was trying to sales pitch you.

So instead, I’m going to tell you about something that is shooting myself in my foot which I’m about to put in my mouth: When you don’t need a consultant.

When You Want To Hear What You Already Know

People love to be told what they already know. It makes them feel smart. When someone disagrees with you there’s a risk of cognitive dissonance – the uncomfortable feeling when an observation conflicts with what you believe to be true. This gives rise to people seeking out consultants who will tell them what they already know, because it flatters them.

This is not what you need. When you’re dropping a considerable amount of money on a consultant’s day rate (the good ones are expensive), you want someone who knows things you don’t. A consultant is plugging the gap in your organisation's knowledge base and potentially bringing a different opinion than your own. If you know what they’ll say, say it yourself.

When You Want To Be Told What To Do

Some consultants get upset when their clients don’t take their advice. For me, this is fine. My job is to tell you how things work and how I believe you should tackle the problems you face. But I also need to explain why I think how I do.

Your job, however, is still your job. So you need to cogitate what your consultant says and come to your own conclusions, based on your now fuller understanding. Otherwise, you’re blind.

When You Want To Ignore Them

The counter to this however is when the advice of a consultant is outright ignored. This comes back to cognitive dissonance. People generally don’t like to be told what they’re doing isn’t the best or right thing, so the ignore it.

Instead of ignoring uncomfortable advice, understand why they’re giving it. Perhaps you are wrong and you need to swallow that or perhaps the consultant doesn’t see the full picture. Either way get that understanding first, it will benefit you.

To Do Something Low Level

Sometimes people ask me to do something like write a GDD. I can do that, but it’s an expensive, inefficient way of doing it. A better use of your money and consultant’s time is in advice. That’s what they exist for. The closer they are to the nitty-gritty the more their judgement toward it is clouded and the less their knowledge is transferred to your own staff.

To Cover Your Ass

Some people like consultants so that when things go wrong or a project loses money, a finger can be pointed to 'the advice'. Games are a very complex and tricky business and bringing in a consultant does not guarantee success. If it did, we’d all be cranking out our own hits. A good consultant won’t ever sell you a guarantee of success, they will instead show you the path there based on their own experience.

So, When Do I Need A Consultant?

I tricked you – don’t you see? Me telling you all of the time you don’t need a consultant, left this big consultant-shaped hole for a besuited middled-aged man with a penchant for conditionally formatted Excel documents.

Consultants are of best use when you’re blind on a subject. When you have a specific problem that needs their unique knowledge to help you gain deeper understanding and reach a conclusion. Their job is to consult: Discuss and provide advice. That is what you should pay them for, otherwise keep your money to yourself.