Mailbag: A "consultant litmus test"

Philip Morgan

(Readin' time: 2m 58s)

List member Mohan gave me permission to share his delightful response to this previous email about a "consultant litmus test":

It's not a ridiculous idea. It's actually kind of easy. I'll explain by way of an anecdote.

(First of all, when we say "consultant", I'm going to assume that you and I are both talking about real consultants and not the temps that firms like Accenture (or whatever their company name of the day happens to be) deploy at a gig and call "junior consultants".)

At my first gig as a "consultant" (a.k.a. a full-time employee at an IT consulting shop deployed at a firm), I was the sole consultant from this Chicago firm at that Milwaukee company, as they were trying to establish a presence in Milwaukee. I was a senior-ish person but also new to the world of consulting. The vice president of the Chicago firm would make occasional trips to discuss the high level details, payments, overall strategy, etc. and leave me to sort out the day-to-day details.

One day, when the VP wasn't there, the department head called me in and outlined a course of action they'd need to take, but said they'd only have an $X budget for this. I wrung my hands because the goal didn't seem comprehensive enough and the budget too small, but he was the boss.

My VP came back later that week and I explained the situation. He said, "No, they need to do it like this...." and proceeded to outline a much more holistic, far-reaching and costly vision.

I said that would never fly because they only had $X.

Mark rolled his eyes and said. "That's not the way this works. Dennis is going to have to go to his higher-ups and find more money if he wants this done properly."

When he said that, the heavens opened and choirs of angels started singing. I was never the same person again.

Mark then outlined his vision to Dennis, who assented, and things proceeded according to Mark's plan.

So here's my litmus test. I'm totally spitballing; this is a rough draft and needs tweaking.

A farmer is selling his latest harvest of lemons for $10 a bushel. He currently has 500 bushels of lemons that need to be sold within two weeks, or else they'll rot. His sole client is a Amusing Lemons, a lemonade seller who has a stand at an amusement park. The client has determined that he can sell 210 bushels worth of lemons for $20/bushel in lemonade per week. The client currently contracts with a driver who has a car that due to capacity and labor constraints can transport 7.5 bushels at a time a maximum of two times per day, except on weekends where they can only make one trip per day. That's why Amazing Lemons contracted you. You have the same car and same labor force and same constraints. Your task is to propose a complete weekly schedule for Amazing Lemons and show how many total bushels you can transport that week and tell Amazing Lemons what his total profit will be with both you and the other carrier's services combined (not including your costs).

This is a framed as a math problem. But then you then see if the interviewee starts pondering solutions like convincing Amazing Lemons to open another stand or freeze the lemonade, getting the farmer to reduce his price, etc. If that happens (feel free to improvise or have pre-planned answers to these) AND the interviewee is still capable of doing the required math correctly, you have a viable consultant on your hands.

Thanks for sharing that, Mohan!

That ideation and validation series was, despite being pretty good in the end, exhausting to write. I'll probably blow off some steam with some flat out silly emails next week. Nicholas Case just annulled his 4-day old marriage (also happens to be his 4th marriage), and so the world is ready to provide me plenty of humorous lenses through which to look at risk, the transition to consulting, specialization, and marketing/lead generation for experts, all of which seem to be the core themes of this list.

Have a great weekend, y'all!