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#464: Effective Consulting is Grounded in Scientific Principles

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, December 23, 2010
Updated: Thursday, December 23, 2010
The more management books and articles I read, the less I am convinced there is such a thing as "best practices." Each book claims to have "the" answer and it seems every consulting firm is trying to claim it is the owner. Is it worth it to even try to weigh the alternatives?

It is true that there is a lot of "old wine in new bottles." It is interesting to see a consulting firm or a management academician describe a novel approach that is surprisingly similar to ones published decades ago, or at a minimum by practitioners of another discipline. To be fair, it is most likely that the authors just weren't thorough in their research. It may be that the idea was a bad one before and is bad now, or just was ahead of its time. There is no single "best practice" that fits all applications. Think of standing on one peak on a mountain range, where each peak provides a good view, but none is appreciably better than any other, just different for different reasons.

One way to evaluate whether a management concept even qualifies for consideration as a best practice is to apply the fundamental principles of scientific inquiry:
  • Understanding the world - Do you sufficiently understand how the world, and your client's business, works to see how the concept applies?
  • Respect for evidence - Where is your empirical data to show that the concept had the desired impact?
  • Logical consistency - Does the use of the concept and its outcome make sense, especially compared to alternatives?
  • Intellectual honesty - Did you arrive at the design and proposed application of the concept in an ethical and transparent manner?
  • Parsimony - Is it a simple, elegant and straightforward concept, and not a more elaborate version of an existing one?
You would be surprised how many seemingly (even award winning) management practices fail these simple tests.

Tip: Management consultants recommend and/or implement interventions that best improve the client's condition. However, even if you have successfully implemented such ideas before, you are obliged to put your proposed recommendations through the above test.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  creativity  innovation  learning  performance improvement  product development  recommendations 

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