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#707: Increase Your Consulting S/N Ratio

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Consultants appreciate a client who provides a lot of information to begin an engagement if it helps us get up to speed and avoids redoing analyses already done or data already collected. Recently, however, many clients "helpfully" give us every bit of data they have to start an engagement, which can be a real burden. How do we efficiently use it without incurring a scope increase just to sort through it?

Of course we want just the relevant data and not an invitation to view the client's file room. Both the consultant and client share the responsibility for information triage. In electronics, a measure of signal quality relative to the background noise is the S/N (signal to noise) ratio. This is a useful concept for consultants starting a project. Your first weeks often involve digesting data (hopefully information), product and market research, personnel records, strategy and planning documents, and the opinions of many people inside and outside the organization.

You want to increase the signal (accurate, timely, relevant, quality and usable information) to noise (inaccurate, outdated, irrelevant, low quality, and false information) ratio. Without straying into electronics engineering, the preferred approach to improve the measurement of the desired signal is to minimize the interference of background noise. This means working with the client to specify only that information (sometimes raw data) that you have a process to use. It is easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to absorb all the available information and then decide how to use it. Stick to your information management and analysis plan (you did specify these in your engagement project plan, right?) and the noise will decrease.

Tip: The concept of signal to noise ratio is useful in other areas. What is your website's S/N ratio (useful and sticky information compared to total content)? What about your presentations (how many PowerPoint slides does it take to make your point compared to the total size of the slide deck)? Your marketing (how often do prospects have to ask follow up questions about your marketing calls)? Increase your consulting S/N ratio in all your communication.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  analysis  communication  customer understanding  diagnosis  information management 

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