He must know what he’s talking about, he’s a Consultant!

I have recently been working with a number of clients to assess their Application Lifecycle Management maturity.  When I kick-off one of these ALM Assessments I take an hour or so the morning of the first day to discuss the assessment process with the the client’s management and the folks that we will be interviewing.  My opening remarks (after I introduce my team) are generally…

… The process over the next few days will go something like this.  We’ll bring each of you in for an interview where we’ll ask you “What’s going well”, “What’s not going well” and then leave some time at the end for you to bring up things that we may have missed. 

At the end of the Assessment, we’ll put together a summary of the interviews.  Then we’ll all meet together and I’ll tell you what you already know.

That’s usually the part where the managers look at me strange and the rank-and-file staff members start nodding their heads knowingly.

A large part of any ALM assessment or review is listening to the interviewees and finding the common patterns in their stories.  A common thread usually emerges after the third or fourth interview.  When we’re done, we document the issues and recommend remediation steps.  Usually we find that we are giving the same or similar recommendations that have come from the staff to management in the week and months prior to our arrival.  Management is usually very happy with the report and moves forward with implementation of the initial parts of the recommendations. 

I’ve always scratched my head at this.  Why is my opinion taken as being more valuable than those closest to the problem?  I had the same question from the other side when I was working as the “rank-and-file staff member” and we had consultants come in.  I could say that it’s because of my years of experience in the development field which gives an “air of competence” to my every word, but again, I’m being self-delusional.

I think that J.D. Meier put the answer quite succinctly in his post Use the system to educate

It’s along the lines of “you can’t be a prophet in your hometown” … sometimes the change agent needs to be external.

Sometimes the change agent needs to be external, indeed…