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Boulder's Rules

Consulting philosophy from our friends at Hanna-Barberra Animation.


In an episode of the Flintstones entitled "The Rolls Rock Caper," Fred assists a private eye named Aaron Boulder in solving a murder mystery. Boulder recites a variety of truisms throughout the episode and finishes them with the phrase, "Boulder´s Rule." I have taken the liberty of appropriating this term for various truisms I have developed over my years as a consultant. Here are my "Boulder´s Rules":

If you walk into the building "running smack," you had better know what you are talking about.
A lot of people try to intimidate others with certainty and humiliation. While this technique may work in talk radio, where there is little fact checking or accountability, in the business world this technique falls flat if the facts of the situation contradict the attitude. The easiest way to establish and maintain credibility with clients is to approach each situation with humility and an open mind.

Laugh heartily at least once a day, preferably in a stressful situation.
Many business people are wound up too tightly for their own good. A little humor goes a long way in defusing a stressful meeting, and reinforces the perception that you are just another human trying to do the best job you can. Remember to use humor in moderation, though, to maintain your credibility.

Don´t be afraid to sweep the floors if it adds value.
Too many consultants have a very high opinion of their talents, and think that many tasks are "beneath" them. Not only do you come off looking like a jerk when you do this, often times a little bit of "menial" work will save the project valuable time and impress your superiors.

If you say, "The sky is falling..." often enough, eventually it falls on you.
The virtues of a positive attitude have been beaten to death in the popular press, but it pays great dividends in the consulting world. Better to say, "I will have to get back to you on that," than to take the "it cannot be done" approach so common in the industry. After all, computer systems are simply 1s and 0s in a certain order, so anything can be done with enough time and resources. Your attitude wins or loses you work.

Never take your ball and go home.
Some consultants do wonderful things on implementations, but realize their work does not fit into the larger scheme of the architecture of the enterprise. When this happens, they sometimes become offended and refuse to work with those who point out the deficiency. This can only be disastrous to your career because managers notice this kind of behavior and will be happy to tell other potential clients about it.

Symbolic deadlines make you lose credibility.
Despite modern project management education, many projects are still managed to schedules. Invariably, unforeseen circumstances intrude on the project and cause the delivery of the expected functionality to push past established dates. Many times the project manager will cut corners on quality or functionality to make the date. This causes low morale in the project team since it also compromises their professionalism.

IT projects fail because people don't usually die if they do.
The software profession is called "engineering" in a rather hopeful tone because it is a noble goal in which to aspire. However, unlike an office building or a bridge, software application failure does not usually result in the deaths of humans (medical software notwithstanding). Therefore, shortcuts are too often taken to make some artificial deadline (see above). Software engineering will not progress to a true engineering discipline until a more serious attitude is adopted by manager and practitioner alike.

It is more difficult to sell change at a company that makes money.
Companies that are losing money tend to be more focused and disciplined in their methods because their resources are limited, where companies that consistently make money tend to be unfocused and undisciplined. I have seen exceptions in both directions, but generally speaking the lack of discipline in "successful" companies can ultimately lead to their demise once their fortunes make a turn for the worse.