Cowboy Service Management Consultants
July 23, 2011

Matthew Burrows

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Cowboy Service Management Practitioners and Consultants - there are too many out there. Just because you know some of the language, because you've been on an ITIL course or read the books, doesn't make you good. Yes, you need an appreciation of the text-book knowledge, maybe a few qualifications and training courses will also help, but there's no substitute for real practical experience, and lots of it.

It really makes me mad when I see someone presenting at a conference, positioning themselves as an expert, trying to get the audience to hire them as a consultant, when I know for a fact that what they are presenting will not work in very many situations - because their case study is based on them doing it only once! The great psychologist, Freud was often criticised for generalising what he had observed in his patients. His clients tended to be sexually-repressed, middle-aged, Viennese women. Yes, some of his theories would probably be broadly right when applied on a global basis, but many would not, or they would need major rework to apply to the general population.

Unfortunately there's a whole host of people out there offering their opinions - some of the opinions are probably really good, but unfortunately some could be extremely dangerous. I'm as guilty as the next person in terms of offering opinions and advice, as I sometime take part in these discussion forums, and as a practicing consultant I guess my job involves giving my opinion and sharing my knowledge based on my experience. My advice may help some people, but not others. However, I always make sure I'm only offering advice on things I have done many times, and if I've only done it once or it's not my area of expertise, then I will refrain from commenting.

There's a limit to how well you can understand the questioners particular situation in a LinkedIn discussion, so the advice is unlikely to be as good as guidance offered after a proper assessment of the situation and time spent gathering the facts and fully understanding the context.

However, sometime people want to post a question and get a quick high-level answer. But how are people supposed to work out whether any particular piece of advice is good or not?

Check out the profile and experience of the person offering the advice. Just because someone says they are an expert doesn't mean they are - satisfy yourself that you trust them to give you good advice. Check they've faced this particular situation several times in similar circumstances. See if they have a balanced view where they are sharing what didn't work as well as what did. Remember that there are few if any 'silver bullet' solutions in this space - what works for one organisation might not work for another, or at least not without some adaptation to suit the specific needs, culture and maturity of the organisation. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is - there is always some effort and risk involved. Give the advice the 'sniff test', if it smells like BS then maybe you should trust your intuition or at least check more carefully until you can decide whether you trust the consultant and their advice, or not.

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