Consulting Chronicles: Trustworthy Allies or Deceptive Foes?

Consulting Chronicles: Trustworthy Allies or Deceptive Foes?
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In the intricate world of consulting, trust stands as the cornerstone of successful partnerships. However, navigating the murky waters of client relationships demands more than surface-level interactions; it requires a keen ability to discern intentions swiftly and accurately. As consultants, we often find ourselves trying to get from being treated as outsiders to be treated as team members on the client's squads.

Unveiling Deception

Picture this: you step into a new project, armed with expertise and goodwill, only to encounter a spectrum of intentions. Amidst the sea of faces, some shine with authenticity, while others cloak their true motives behind a facade of cooperation. Take, for instance, the DevOps setup scenario: one stakeholder emerges as a beacon of transparency, eager to collaborate and learn, while another paints a picture of proficiency concealing underlying incompetence. This stark contrast underscores the need for discernment in distinguishing between genuine support and strategic deceit. In such situations, skepticism becomes our shield, guiding us away from alliances built on shaky ground.

This was one of the hardest lessons and turns out I'm quite bad at this, assessing people is a key skill in consulting because you're an external player, even though you're there to help, all of the client staff will see you as an outsider because that's essentially what you are, they will see you as "the one who will point out the mistakes", but you have to be the one who helps them solve them.

Because you are "the outsider who will point out what they've done wrong" they might not be 100% transparent to you in many ways. Also, being an outsider means you don't know the political plays being done around the project. I'll give one example.

Very early on the project, when starting to discover the DevOps landscape at the client, I met two of my key stakeholders: the client's Head of Infrastructure and one of the Enterprise Architects who was working in DevOps.

The head of infrastructure was a very solid engineer, focussed on solving problems and providing all the information and support we needed, he made it clear from the get go he was there for us and was completely honest, he was learning DevOps while supporting us because there was no DevOps practice whatsoever and it was a new concept to him but, quoting his exact words: whatever you need, consider it done

The Enterprise Architect, looked like a solid engineer as well, seemed well versed in DevOps practices and according to him, everything was done, the bank had CICD pipelines already, using not only one but multiple technologies: Tekton, Jenkins, Gitlab, "choose whatever you're most comfortable with and it's done, just use it" and everything integrated with static code analysers, containers and images scanners, automatic containers provisioning and deployments. Too good to be truth in my opinion but he offered to do a demo for me.

Fast forward, the head of infrastructure was one of my key allies in the client, anything and everything we needed he was ready to support and push for us, skipping all the formalities (which were backfilled with his support afterwards) most of the times.

The Enterprise Architect, on the other hand, in the end was pushing some certain technology stack because it was the one he was most comfortable with and he was also a contractor, so he wanted to keep himself relevant to also keep his share of the client, in the end he didn't have anything to offer us, he tried many times to implement a pipeline and failed, the demo was never done because there was nothing to show. We ended up going with a different and more standard stack for the CICD implementation and delivered late because I was, wrongly, counting on him.

Final thoughts

The ability to see the hidden agendas is something I need to exercise more, I tend to trust and believe what other people say too quick without questioning too much. This could also be my imposter syndrome because I tend to believe people can do things better and faster than I can. Being aware of this is something I'll for sure use on my next client engagement. I have to learn that not everything that shines is gold and ask the right questions before it's too late and I'm trapped into a situation where someone is using me or my team for political or personal purposes or I'm irremediably late on my deliverables.