The following is excerpted from Chapter 8: "The Role of the Consultant" in William's new book, "90 Days to Success in Consulting."

Industries that spawn consulting organizations to support them have a very difficult time reining in the nomenclature of that industry. With every vendor and consultant trying to leave their mark on an industry, acronyms are created left and right, and once-sacred definitions are continually nuanced, if not outright replaced. Eventually the phrases become meaningless. The "correct term" for something all depends on who you talk to.

You can look for your own opportunity to inject your definition into the industry if you wish to join that fray. But an effective alternative - and one that your clients might appreciate - is to speak (and write) to clients in a way that shows you know they are being bombarded by overlapping definitions in the industry you represent, full of hard-to-follow homonyms and synonyms. An example of this approach might be, "You may hear OLAP referred to as any kind of data access, or you may hear it referred to as specific forms of data access that include the ability to see your business metrics by any business dimension."

If the client chooses to go with definitions that seem to be working in their environment, go with them. You should be flexible enough to accommodate them. However, the efficiency and convenience of having everyone on the same page with their references is unmistakable. If there is opportunity, feel free to forge your chosen definitions into the client's language. But present your definitions with the caveat that they may hear or read different definitions of the term and perhaps other terms used to define whatever it is you're describing. Always do so with an explanation of why labeling is important.

When it comes to naming conventions and labeling, you must also guard against your own prejudices, or it will soon become evident that you and your client are on different pages. Confusion does not a good relationship make. When you notice a problem at a client site that you've seen elsewhere, it's great that you have experience fixing such a thing. Just remain vigilant throughout the process in case flexibility is required.

The Occam's Razor Principle of Consulting

Occam's razor (paraphrased) states that the simplest explanation is usually the best one. At some level, there is a finite set of problems that clients may ask you to address. Think about client (past and future) situations that you may be called on to resolve. On one page, list them out. At a high level, list something that should be done about each situation that you want to influence in the client relationship.

For example, you may find a client using software that is so old that its vendor no longer supports it. Not only is this causing all manner of support costs and delays, but the client is likely building workarounds and missing upgraded features of new software versions. Quite often, these client cultures lack an understanding of the importance of staying current with their chosen technology. Instead of perpetuating complex workarounds, an upgrade may be the simple resolution to produce the best results for the client.

You are looking for leverage with your client. You are looking to make a small change that will result in the biggest positive outcome for your client. It is reasonable to assume that in most cases you are only going to be able to make one small change at a time, so make immediate impact with small changes that bring the largest result. If the results are not large but are at least progressive, look to make continued small transformations that add up. Coming into an organization - especially a large one - looking to make big changes without planning for intermediate steps is tantamount to failure.

What Could Go Wrong?

Once scope is set for an engagement, the best question for a consultant to ask is, "What could go wrong?" Once you consider all the answers to this question - and keep asking this question until there are no more answers - you can then manage all of those factors to increase the chances of success with the client. By the way, even if you think you know all the answers, ask the clients for their answers to the question. They will tell you what could go wrong from their perspective.

Recalling that consulting is about tradeoffs, if you do not have the resources to reasonably address all possible negative outcomes, make sure you communicate this with your client.

This exercise is also a way of tapping into your thoughts and bringing them out into practice. Consulting is a mental game, and one difference you must bring is the ability to see what others don't. The best way to draw that out and to deter bad outcomes is to continually ask questions.

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