Three Laws Of Consulting By Gerald M. Weinberg

Alik Levin    As part of my quest to become a better consultant I am reading Gerald M. Weinberg's book Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully . It is quite controversial and provocative book. At the same time Weinberg shares real world practices that help folks in the field like myself coping with tough situations. It helps to avoid being eaten alive.It also entertaining and sometimes cynical which only teaches you to not take life too seriously, otherwise you will never get alive out of it. Weinberg shares his story in form of laws. Here are three first laws of consulting by Gerald M. Weinberg.

The First Law Of Consulting

Weinberg Writes:

"In spite of what your client may tell you, there's always a problem."

This must be a daily mantra for any consultant. Problems are consultant's bread. I think one of the greatest skills consultant should possess is seeing problems everywhere (read "opportunities"). Sometimes these problems ("opportunities") are latent. Consultant's job is to discover it and present it to the stakeholder in such manner so there is no way other than hiring you to solve it. If the consultant discovered fake latent problem she won't be hired again. If the consultant discovered real latent problem and even showed the way to solve it then the consultant's brand gets stronger and she gets more gigs.

Consultant, search for real latent problems.

The Second Law Of Consulting

Weinberg Writes:

"No Matter how it looks at first, it's always a people problem."

This reminds me a story, my colleague consultant told me yesterday. He was involved with a 6 months project. The project's only goal was improving performance of a software. After few quick researches he solved the problem  presenting the whole management and engineering team with the solution. Success? Far from it. He became a center of cross fire:

  • The engineering team was mad at him - "Now what we are going to do for the last 5 months? They surely going to fire us all".
  • The management was mad at him too - "We have the budget for 6 months. What are we going to do with it? It sourly going to be taken back now...".

It is always people problem...

The Third Law Of Consulting

Weinberg Writes:

"Never forget they're paying you by the hour, not by the solution".

Mister Weinberg, you are absolutely right! But I am on my quest to break this law. I truly believe that the better option is productized service. Why? Here is why:

  • It is easy to sell (eliminate time for sales ceremonies).
  • It is easy to buy (the customer buys end result, not consultant's hours).
  • It is easy to deliver (doing same thing is easier than making up new thing each time).

I witness more and more customers are willing to pay for end result vs. consultant hours.

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Comments (6)

  1. Jimmy May says:

    I am eager to hear more of Mr. Weinberg.  

    I’m distressed by the anecdote you shared regarding the Second Law.  The responses from the engineering & management teams struck me as unethical–if the project was over-scoped, so be it.  Competence should be rewarded, not punished.  Like you stated in your commentary to the First Law, the competent consultant will build his/her brand & get more gigs.  Another way to look at it is doing the right thing–& ripping off the customer by slacking for five months is never the right thing.

    Alik, I applaud your stretching yourself the way you do.  I’m fascinated that as an Architect you have the time to read as much as you do–& apply it such as you do here.  Thanks for sharing this great info!

  2. Alik Levin says:

    Jimmy, great to hear you liked Weinberg’s insights!

    "Doing the right thing…." hmmm.

    Tech should serve people and not the other way around we both agree on that, right?

    So what is "doing the right thing"?

    I agree that ripping off the customer by slacking for five months is a bad choice, but there is so many choices in between….

    Competent consultant must read the situation – both technical and human.

    In the end it is a people problem 😉

    So what are you optimizing? tech or people?

    Competent consultant must find the optimum that does both to the max – and that’s tough….

  3. Jimmy May says:

    Of course it’s tough–if it were easy my Aunt Matilda would be doing it in her spare time, eh?

    You’re right about the choices in between–& I almost commented that I’ve yet to run into an app with a single performance issue.  If the stakeholders permitted, I would provide additional value by optimizing my solution, the rest of the app, & training my customers in the ways of performance-&-scalability.

    With regard to what I’m optimizing, it’s the relatively rare person who is trainable.  So I stick with things I can change–myself.  (Ask my lovely bride, I may be a bit slow at times, yet I am eminently trainable. 😉 )

    I tend to agree with Mr. Weinberg–many problems are people problems.  As I reflect on my problematic engagements, it’s clear that the biggest problems by far were people problems!

    And this brings us back to your post on Dale Carnegie:

    Of course, Dale Carnegie training is so much more than public speaking–it’s people skills!

    Speaking of trainable, Dale Carnegie training was one of the best things I ever did, for details:

  4. Biondi Tang says:

    A positive view on "its always a people problem" could be "its always a communication problem".  No matter how good a solution is, it takes time and effort to make the stakeholders understand and believe with confidence.

    On the other side, its also true.  It takes time and effort for the consultant to really understand the problems so that to provide a feasible solution.

    Technical expertise is hard enough, communication is even harder…

  5. Alik Levin says:


    Too true, too true.

    Keeping your positive note …. I’d even go further calling it "it’s always a communication challenge"    😉

    During last two weeks I witnessed the art of interpersonal communications. That was too educating and I learned a lot about interpersonal communications. I also learned a lot about influence without authority which is heavily based on the art of interpersonal communication.

    Take a look at these two other posts of mine – its main theme is “speaking the language people understand”

    Thanks for your insights!

  6. Performance & the 20% Rule I was reading the post from Ed Glas , Make Your Performance Work Count:

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