How Not to Suck at Consulting

The  name is unfortunate but the subject is not.

Consulting.  More and more technical work is done by consultants, people who are free to move through the world and use their skills.  They are also people who are limited, contractually, to narrow contacts with their clients.

So we are exploring this topic by sending one of our crack consulting teams to work with an international client in Hamburg Germany, a coffee logistics firm.  (Which proves to be a major industry in Hamburg.)   You get a chance to see what works (and what doesn’t) without facing the consequences.

Series Cast(alphabetically):

  • Sahara Ale
    • Aravinda the Attorney
    • Klara, the Niece from Berlin
  • Margaux Amie
    • Evelyn, the HWMS Business Manager & Co-host
  •  Debbon Ayer
    • Sonja Pfeifer, Head of Bohne Kaffee Logistiks Operations
    • Ida, Friend of Florian
  •  Ron Bianchi
    • Chuck, the dog walker
    • Jurgen the truck driver
    • Fritz-Bernard in coffee logistics
    • Peter the friend of Florian
    • Henry Kissinger
  •  Josh LaForce
    • Florian Bohne, owner of Bohne Kaffee Logistiks
  • Geoffrey Grier
    • Vinny the HWMS CTO
  • Kit Kuksenok
    • Kit Kuksenok, Director of HWMS Consulting
  • Noah Masur
    • Dirk the Tech Guy
    • Rohit the Tech Guy
    • Arndt, the Coffee Guy
  •  Jake Minevich
    • Victor the Fixer
    • Max, Friend of Florian
  •  Skippy
    • Ziggy
  •  Sarah Corbyn Woolf
    • Anna the lead consultant

“Are You Going To Use That Title?”



“How Not to Suck at Consulting”

We will not defend the name.  It is offensive and consultants should not be offensive.  But it suggests the stakes for this story and the low bar for success.  Or at least claiming success. 



“Talk Like A Family”


The heart of the matter. Do don’t know what it is until you’ve done it. You don’t understand why it is hard, until you’ve done it internationally.

The crack cast of How We Manage Stuff prepares to depart for Germany. At one level, the problem is simple. A small German logistics firm needs some help. It’s a drama of course. But dramas are good at the exposing the heart of the matter. Almost as good as doing it yourself.


“Who’s In Charge Here?”

How do you begin a consulting job?

In thunder, lightening or in rain?

It is chaotic at the start. You move to new offices, meet new people and start to appreciate new responsibilities. Our podcast has been hired by a German firm – a logistics provider to the coffee industry – to review their software systems and make recommendations. They arrive on site, after a long flight, and quickly discover that they did not fully appreciate the environment in which they would have to work.


“Do You Know What You’re Doing?”

 You don’t, and that’s the point.  

None of know what we are doing when we going into a new organization.  We don’t know the history.  We don’t know the power structure.  Sometimes, we don’t even know the goals.  (And this will lead us to one of the key questions of this series: “Who are Leena and Klara?”)  Occasionally , we don’t even know ourselves. 

Our podcast consulting team has beens starting work in Hamburg.  Anna’s replacing a key staff member and thinking about the future.  Trouble is, she does not know all that the client is thinking and might not know what to do if she did.


“Hiking in the Alps”


We have a company. We have a consulting team. And we believe we have a client, though it would seem that the client is not sure that he would have us. Days after the HWMS team arrived at BKL, it’s owner decided to go hiking in the Swiss Alps. It could be the confidence of a secure leader. It could be a brilliant strategy to get a new perspective on the business. It could also be a poor choice by a misguided manager. We take a moment to get the owner’s point of view as he walks with his friends in the Alps.


“What Does This Paper Mean?”

 You don’t, and that”s the point.  
It’s the contract that holds you together. Not your history. Not your friendship. Not anything else.

The contract. Offer. Acceptance. Consideration. That’s it.

And what does that paper mean when things start moving fast, when you jump from one meeting to the next?

And what does it mean when the client, or perhaps a representative of the client, has ideas? Where does the contract end?


“Gathering Scientifically”

hwms.coverartConsulting.  You’re just giving your opinion.  That’s it.  Nothing more.

Now, in theory, that opinion is worth something on the open market.  It’s worth something for two reasons.  First, you have some special training or knowledge.  Second, you have data.  Data about what is happening.

And there’s the rub.  In the modern day and age, we collect ever bit of data we can and call it good.  Yet.  Yet.  Yet.  Data can mislead.  It can make you believe you know something when you don’t It can confuse when it should inform.  Therefore, we need to know something about gathering data scientifically


“Back in The Alps with Goats”


A business owner.

A group of good friends. And an underlying controversy that simply won’t go away.

Florian Bohne, the owner of Bohne Coffee Logistics is holding a party in the Swiss Alps while his friends believe that he should be back with his company.

So we have a fight, a disagreement among friends.  Yet it is a disagreement that seems to be about one thing – how Florian is dealing with consultants – while it is really about something deeper, more profound.


“The Fatal Mistake”


When do they make the mistake?

When do they make a decision that limits – radically limits – options?

Our consulting team is working on a project that is only stumbling forward in the best of light.  So what has happened, we ask.  Has someone made a mistake?

Has our team done something wrong?  Has the client chosen the wrong strategy?  Have the managers failed to support the work?  Any one of these might constitute the “Fatal Mistake.”


“Keeping the Volume Down”


If they wanted the same thing, then the decision would be easy.

But they don’t.

So it isn’t.

Our drama probes the decision making process in this episode.  It uncovers two, maybe three, sharp disagreements.  A split in the family.  An employee with her own agenda.  A consultant trying to do his best and to control the noise of the discussion.


“Confront and Advise”



You don’t talk.  It’s “complicated.”

You don’t act.  It’s “complicated.”

You don’t know what to do.  It’s…

You can see the pattern.

Our consulting at BKL Coffee Logistics has been strained.  This owner had this grad idea to start the job and then vanish to a retreat in the Swiss Alps.  He wanted to keep out of the way, he said.  He wanted to let things take their course.

He may have had a plan.

He may have been improvising.

He may have been frightened.

But today, a brave niece tries to get an honest conversation started.  A niece who has a career that is only vaguely related to coffee.


“Delivering the Goods”

It’s not the slides.

It’s not the words.

It’s not the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t determine your success.  Or at least it doesn’t determine it very much.

The bigger issue:  What do your clients know?  And when did the learn it?

In the consulting trip to Hamburg, our team is about to deliver its report.  Lots of ideas.  Lots of implications for the future of the client, Bohne Kaffe Logistiks.

But the report has become public.  Or at least parts of it.

And everyone thinks they know what is in it.   More importantly, they think they know what is in it for them.

The measure of success?  Can they communicate the real message.


“Following The Trail”


It never ends well.

It really can’t

There is an organization to renew.

There are new tasks, new demands, new technology to install, new procedures to develop.

So what do you get when a tech consulting job ends?  You’re supposed to get a new company, but perhaps all you get is a trail of beans.