How Herding Cats Allows Consultants To Get Things Done

herding cats
Herding cats: Getting things done

I’ve worked with clients who had their own project methodologies. In most cases it was a binder or two somewhere on a bookshelf. It might have even been distributed in binders on everyone’s desk.

Unfortunately, that was often where it ended. It has been my experience that many clients don’t follow methodologies even when they have them. At least it is not followed consistently. One person may follow a few aspects of it and another person may use other features. Meanwhile, the general population of project leads all do things their own way. Their approaches are gathered from a collection of practices and habits from previous jobs.

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When an organization has a large project to implement, senior management often realizes that they need a consulting firm to provide the discipline of a formal methodology to get the job done right.

When they solicit firms to do the work, they look at the firm’s experience with similar projects. They also want to know about the firm’s methodology and whether it is a proven way to implement projects. Client senior management also hopes the methodology will be adopted by their own employees for future projects after the consultants have moved on.

That is rarely a successful strategy. It fails for several reasons.

For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants


The senior executives of the organization may think the methodology is terrific. The client employees, however, tend to resist the change. A formal methodology involves planning, paperwork and other things that the employees may find superfluous. They think of it as unnecessary overhead.

The employees may not want to waste time performing tasks they’ve never performed in the past. Even when the project goes smoothly, they revert back to their old practices on their next project.

Different incentives

Consultants are evaluated on their success on a project including how well they followed the methodology. Renegades are usually not rewarded. Clients often have an incentive structure that pays little attention to how a methodology is followed. Once a human resources department establishes job descriptions and evaluation approaches throughout an organization, it is difficult to change them.

What gets measured gets done. As a result, client employees are rarely motivated to follow a methodology.


Consultants are trained on the firm’s methodology and most consultants on the team have experience using it on previous projects. They have seen how it works when things go well and when things go wrong.

A good methodology has a formal approach with enough flexibility to handle exception situations. An experienced consultant has seen how the exceptions are handled and is better equipped to handle new exceptions.

When the consulting firm leaves, the client has only seen the methodology practiced on one project. They may have seen a few exceptions, but are not experienced enough with the methodology to follow it efficiently on future projects.

See my related post: 6 Ways Consultants Can Impact Organizational Change

Herding cats

Combining all of the above reasons, the difference comes down to discipline. Consultants have the drive, the incentive and the experience to follow their methodology in a disciplined manner.

Client employees usually lack the discipline to be successful with an adopted methodology that they have only seen utilized on one project and have little incentive to follow.

While the consulting firm knows the methodology, they’re greatest value-add often comes from herding cats at the client. They have a laser beam focus on getting the project done successfully. Consultants establish and enforce formal practices. Client employees may not see the need for what they consider extraneous tasks. They perform them, often without realizing the value the tasks provide.

Consultants deal with issues and exceptions, sometimes without the client’s awareness of the behind the scenes activities. Consultants also diligently follow the defined processes of the methodology. Clients follow those procedures. But they might not direct their own team to do the same, if not for the push from the client.

The client herds the cats that would not normally follow the process with as much discipline. When the consultants leave the client, the cats don’t do as well at herding themselves.

Do you have any experience herding cats at clients?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at 

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