by Matt Leathers

How do you know if you are getting a team that is faking it?

Jun 20, 2016
CIOIT GovernanceIT Leadership

Here are some key staffing questions and answers that can help keep consultants honest.

One the firms that I worked for had a methodology that we advertised as a proprietary, standardized approach that allowed us to deliver better and faster than the competition. CHRYSALIS 2.0* was the secret sauce behind every project. I completed the CHRYSALIS 2.0 training content by the time I finished brewing a pot of coffee.

Meanwhile, my teammates and I were advertised and sold by business development teams as CHRYSALIS 2.0 practitioners. I was staffed on a project in Raleigh, NC as an expert C++ programmer with two weeks of training under my belt and a growing ability to improvise.

The reality for consultants is that we do a lot of on the job training, frequently on the client’s dime. Training is the first thing to get cut for the sake of billable client hours. In Raleigh, my teammates and I read C++ for Dummies while we ate lunch at our desks in a struggle to keep the project on track.

A significant portion of our on the job training comes from learning in close quarters with the engagement partner and senior team members. When it works, this model brings diverse, talented teams together and they grow from shared experiences.

Unfortunately, many consulting teams are built based on who is available for staffing. Furthermore, the actual amount of quality time with the senior team members is extremely limited. On the Raleigh assignment, my big takeaway from the engagement partner was that the Dummies books did not inspire client confidence, so I should read them at night. 

Centralized tools and frameworks may be available, but they are rarely updated with the latest trends and field experiences. Each year, we would conduct asset harvesting initiatives to vacuum up client deliverables and content from our hard drives into a centralized repository.

As you can imagine, these efforts yielded mixed results. If we had not taken the time to clean and submit our deliverables at the end of the original engagement, how were we going to find the time to clean and submit them a year later?

How do you know if you are getting a good team or if they are faking it? Here are a few suggestions to help you know what you are getting:

Do the team members assigned to you have experience with the case studies in the proposal? Confirm that several members of the proposed team have relevant experience, especially the senior consultants and associate consultants. Have these team members worked together previously or will they storm and form on the job?

Most firms cannot guarantee that every member of the proposal team is available. Look for proposal teams and project teams to have some common threads, particularly for key positions. Ideally, at least one senior team member has seen a project like yours through from start to finish.

  1. Is the proposal team the same as the engagement team?

  • Verify that the illustrative resumes represent your team. If the case studies were key to influencing your decision, understand how the teams that delivered them will be involved, if they will be involved at all.

  • Strong resources rarely become available in the general staffing pool, especially senior staff with specialized skills. Learn how the team will tap into those experiences if they are not staffed on your project.

  1. Does the team have experience with the case studies in the proposal?

  • New consulting hires have to learn culture, even if they are experienced. Many firms staff resources as they are hired to avoid long stretches of unstaffed time. Your new cloud architect could be learning the time and entry system, taking onboarding training, and meeting their career counselor at the same time they start your project.

  • Look for resources with proven delivery experiences at their firm. Many firms have an “up or out” approach to career development. While this is changing, consultants with tenure at the same firm are usually strong performers, as poor performers are drummed out quickly.

  1. Have the team members worked together on previous projects?

  • Engagement partners generally like to keep strong teams together and partners will stash resources on the bench as long as possible. My phone would begin ringing incessantly with partners calling to see if I was coming available as early as four weeks ahead of a projected end date.

  • Look for teams with a degree of familiarity with one another. Tight deadlines and difficult problems bring a team together quickly. Some of my best client work was created on a tight deadline with teammates that I knew from a previous project.

    beers and power point Matthew Leathers

    Urgent client request at 4PM + Dual laptops + Hotel lobby – Beer = Overnight delivery fulfilled.


Matthew Leathers

Your experience can vary greatly based on your consulting team. I have worked with amazingly talented teams. I have replaced half of the client facing team in the first month of a project. Ask a few pointed questions in advance to improve your chances of a good outcome.


*Not the real name.