The 3 Ds of Client Subversion and What To Do

Written by lewsauder

January 7, 2013

Client Subversion

The 3 Ds of Client Subversion

As a consultant, I’ve liked every client I’ve ever served.  There are some, however, that I’ve liked more than others.

Every once in a while I run across one person at a client that doesn’t like our presence.  It’s usually nothing personal, they just don’t like outsider consultants coming into their home court and disrupting things.  Sometimes consultants are seen as a threat.  We could point out how a process they designed is flawed.  We could change things around so much that the client employee’s job is either eliminated or changed, taking them out of their comfort level.

In most instances, these people are no more than a thorn in the consultant’s side, spreading rumors, and intercepting communication at key points in our project.

There have been a few that went over and above the call of duty.  These are the folks that practiced what I call “The 3 D’s” of client sabotage.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the concept, the 3 D’s are the strategy that the U.S. took to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  They represent Disrupt, Dismantle and Defeat.

Client saboteurs use these approaches – albeit in a much less deadly way – to do whatever they can to derail the consulting project and maintain the status quo.

For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants


This is the most common approach for a client saboteur.  Primarily because there are so many ways to disrupt and it can be done in subtle or passive-aggressive ways.

The most common ways include missing critical meetings causing decisions to be delayed.  It’s also common for the offenders to leave out critical information when business requirements are being gathered.  Then, when it’s time for the business team to sign off on the requirements, they hope that the missing requirements are not caught.  The longer requirements go without being identified, the better chance of it negatively affecting the project.


It often requires someone with political power to do serious dismantling to a project.  Once a team has been identified to work with the consulting firm on a project, they start to find other projects where the team members are needed and have them reassigned.  It’s a great way to cause a project to have a few false starts.  It’s an added sabotage bonus if a team member can be pulled mid-way through a project in order to cause extensive retraining for the new replacement team members.

More serious cases of dismantlement include deleting critical documents and raising red flags to client management about the “poor job” the consulting firm is doing.


Defeat is usually attained when the disrupt and dismantle tactics have successfully placed doubt in enough people’s minds that the consultant’s credibility is sufficiently reduced.  Once a team begins having doubts about a consultant’s capabilities, it’s hard for the consultant to win them back.

See my related post: The Difficult Client

Preventing client subversion

Consultants should have their eyes open at the very beginning of a project for any signs of subtle sabotage.  When people begin missing multiple meetings, issues should be raised with management so that they begin to recognize the trend early.

When gathering requirements, multiple users from each business group should be interviewed to make sure that one person doesn’t have the control to exclude key requirements.

If someone is removed from the project, it should be discussed at length with client management to make them aware of the ramifications to the project.

A consultant cannot be paranoid.  People miss meetings, requirements get missed and all projects experience setbacks.  But a good consultant needs to keep his or her eye open to identify any trends in those setbacks to identify whether the source is from a single person or group.

If that trend is identified, a consultant should raise the red flag to stop it before their actions stop the project.

Have you ever witnessed client subversion? What did you do about it?

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

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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