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Because the mission of ACE is to foster 'Success through Collaboration', the Membership is resolved to promote internal communication and to enable interchange. One effective means to accomplish these objectives is through Blog activity to broaden the audience for thoughts, activities, and successes. 

This forum enables the members to share expertise and learning regarding topics of interest to the consultant community or to call attention to key work and current activities. However, areas of focus and expertise are better displayed in the Member Directory.

  • July 09, 2014 6:09 PM | James Milliken


    Association for Consulting Expertise

          What do you want? What’s it worth?

         “When you’re thinking about bringing in a consultant, your eye should be on the prize,” says David Fields, the international mentor-consultant and best-selling author. “How do you expect to be better off at the end of this – and what is the value of that?

         “That’s a different conversation than ‘How do we have you work on this for $40 an hour?’ –which is about cost.

         “The project is aimed at solving a problem or achieving an outcome. That should be the focus of all the work and all the contracts and all the rest.”

         Fields, who wrote “The Executive’s Guide to Consultants,” is a prolific presenter and blogger, as well as a writer and consultant.

         He was interviewed after his recent presentation to Maine’s Association for Consulting Expertise. The ACE program was aimed at advising consultants. This interview explored the other side of the relationship – the client.

         It is a mistaken tendency of many executives, he said, to look at cost up front (Wrong!”) and to compare a consulting fee to employee salaries: “Why, I could hire four fulltime employes for that.”

         Fields answers: “That’s an apples-to-Oldsmobiles comparison.

         ”You’re hiring a consultant to help you solve a problem or achieve an aspiration, and the value they’re supposed to be delivering, compared to the value full-time employees would deliver is what you should compare. Across all industries, the average return on labor costs is around 6-to-1, so if your consultant is giving you more than a 6-to-1 return that’s a better investment than an employee. (Keep in mind also that a new employee would have to deliver that 6-to-1 return every day, month and year you have them employed.)

         “Before the person even talks to a consultant, have they figured out the value of the project? The first thing they should do is answer the question, ‘Why bother?’ What’s the reason to bother – solving the problem or achieving the aspiration – and what’s the value?”

         They should determine whether they really need outside help, he says.

         Mistakes are made both ways: “They often can get close enough without that help – they can get 80 to 90 percent there – all they really need. It matters because consultants are disruptive.

         “On the other hand, people frequently do things on their own that they shouldn’t. They should go to the outside if it is not in their core expertise. This is especially true with small companies, and even more when the founder is involved. It’s hard to bring in an outsider.”


         When there is a considered decision to hire a consultant, Fields says, the first thing the client and consultant should do together is thoroughly examine six topics:

    • 1.       What is the situation? Specifically, what has changed and why does the client need outside help?
    • 2.      What’s the desired outcome? Fields urges care to ensure that a simple deliverable is not mistaken for an outcome. If communication training is conducted to cut down on outcome errors, improved communication does not mean the desired outcome was reached if the errors are still happening.
    • 3.      What are the success indicators? How will you know you have achieved the outcome? This should be settled at the start. There can be qualitative indicators (improved confidence on the part of executives) as well as quantitative indicators (cost control, schedule improvement).
    • 4.      What are the risks and concerns?  There are threats to the project that must be considered, but also risks in bringing in a consultant.
    • 5.      What is the value? What hard and soft benefits will the solution or achievement bring to the client’s company, its employees and its customers?
    • 6.      What are the parameters? These are the limits, assumptions, etc.

         What if the project doesn’t go well? “I place the blame on the client,” David Fields says. “The client didn’t hire well. In most cases, clients do a lousy job hiring consultants. Just as with marketing, not as easy as, well, just anybody can write copy. Not so – there are some best practices that you need to follow.

         “I do put some blame on consultants. They’re the ones who let this go ahead.”

         One problem is that clients “tend to hire people who are experienced in their situation, instead of someone expert in the outcome. You already have the experience in your organization. You need someone expert in where you want to go.

         “You shouldn’t look for someone who has been a scorer in a particular sport. You need someone who has scored goals in a variety of sports. Or no sport at all – but has a talent for team energy, who can bring that to everyone.

         “You need someone who knows how to help coaches communicate with players.”


         David Fields looks for the vision and skills that account for the broad scene, anticipate possibilities of all kinds and ask lots of questions before formalizing a project.

         He provides a dash of cold logic based on taking that approach:

         “Everyone thinks their situation is unique – client and consultant. Not so. None of us is unique.”




  • June 24, 2014 3:28 PM | Anonymous

    Frustrated that you are using online tools to try to grow your business, but it feels like you are spinning your wheels?

    Are you delivering the right message, the right way, in your online marketing efforts?

    An upcoming Portland seminar in Sept will be offering support with these problems, but to insure that your specific online marketing concerns are covered, please respond to the following one question survey:

    Do you feel your company is getting a good return for your online marketing efforts (such as social media, your website, blog and/or e-newsletter)?
    Why or why not?

  • May 24, 2014 12:56 PM | Anonymous

    Here's a link to an article I wrote for Fast Company. It's about a new communication tool I'll be presenting at the July ACE Roundtable. This tool is versatile and straightforward. I use it to:
    • Guide leadership communication
    • Focus professional development conversations
    • Structure difficult conversations
    • Plan communication strategies
    • Diagnose communication breakdowns

  • March 28, 2014 9:50 AM | Anonymous
    A series of cartoons on consultant is running. This is one of them.
  • December 13, 2013 2:20 PM | James Milliken

         We’ve talked and thought – a lot -- about what makes a good project manager. It’s all in what that person does, and I’m now down to three Ps in describing it: preparation, persistence and perspective.

         Preparation. How many project problems, hassles and stunning bad surprises can be traced back to sloppy and/or incomplete work at the outset?

         Do we, are we allowed to, invest adequate attention up front in gathering, organizing and analyzing enough information so we are confident we have the right problem definition, a sound situation analysis and a clear purpose statement?

         Are we empowered? Has our organization’s leadership delegated to us sufficient authority – and made it fully known down the hierarchy – that we carry full authority to ask for support and resources adequate for the needs of the project?

         Is the team up to the challenge? Do we have enough team members, and do they have the right skills and intentions, to do what it will take?


         Persistence. How can you be sure you are you sticking with a tough challenge through thick and thin, a rare and noble thing? When are you just being stubborn, refusing to see the obvious that everyone else sees in a losing proposition?

         How can you know the difference, and how can you tell when the prospects switch from favorable to hopeless – or in the other direction, from lost cause to golden opportunity?

         Answer: You can never know, you can never be sure.

         One certainty, though, is that worthwhile opportunity, really worthwhile opportunity, always comes with risk. Generally speaking, the higher the potential payoff, the greater the risk in pursuing it.

         All you can do is stack the prospects in your favor as much as possible (see preparation, above). 

         Perspective. This is an operating function of wisdom. It is a clear view of the ongoing balance of the odds in this dicey operation we call project management.

         As project decisions, efforts and investments produce results, there is constant realignment among the three competing imperatives: cost, schedule and quality. By the time there is much evidence of the direction of the project, it may be too late. A clear perspective is an outcome, not a working tool.

         Perspective is essential to the project manager, and it requires confidence in one’s judgment arising from competence in the first two Ps. You know when the project meter ticks into the red zone because your accumulated experience alerts you to it.

         For the professional project manager, preparation is pretty much a continuous thing. You don’t just live in the moment, and you have little use for unreliable human memory. 

         While you’re continuously alert to every part of your project, you ensure that all meaningful facts about its functioning are captured, in real time, in a permanent record. Understanding the meaning of that record contributes to fine tuning of managerial judgment.

         The project manager gets better and better at knowing just when to introduce change. When any part of the project has been squeezed for every bit of value, the leader pulls the plug. Not a moment too early or too late.

         We’ve all admired people who stuck with some worthwhile endeavor long after we suspect we would have packed it in. And they pulled it off.

         We’ve also seen people too stubborn to admit defeat, who forced their team and their organization into a lost and senseless grind. And, conversely, those who just gave up.

         When to quit. Part of knowing how to succeed.

  • August 19, 2013 6:32 PM | Tove Rasmussen
    Competitive advantage comes from many places beyond simply the product and/or service.  So below I have outlined 14 possibilities for advantage. They are supported by considerable data, research and experience - with the sources noted in a bibliography. Sources of competitive advantage lie all along the value chain..
    Click here to continue reading:

    By Tove Rasmussen, Business Growth Advisor & President, Partners Creating Wealth
  • June 10, 2013 1:59 PM | James Milliken

    People who hate mistakes are dangerous people.

    They rarely come right out and say they hate mistakes, but the markers for the attitude are obvious anyway. If you’re a manager, you can’t afford to ignore them.

    When mistakes happen – as they inevitably do – the most devoted mistake-haters tend to react ferociously. Not only do they strongly, instantly distance themselves from any association with the problem, but they come down hard on the designated perp. That person can expect blunt and unforgiving condemnation.

    It’s an entirely different matter when the mistake is made by this hater himself/herself. If it can’t be ignored or dismissed, there will be a vigorous, campaign to evade the blame. Someone else really is the one who did it, or did something that is the real cause. Or the person who revealed the problem is a bad person, for whatever reason the hater can drag in or manufacture.

    This mistake-hating syndrome is not always so open and obvious. Haters sometimes limit themselves to chilly disapproval or simple withdrawal. But, if they really have the conviction, the silent ones are just as immovable as the others.

    Whatever the personal style, this person who truly hates mistakes is not capable of understanding or helping a colleague who has made a mistake, or of owning his or her own.

    What Are We Talking About?

    Let’s be frank about mistakes. They are actions, decisions, words, whatever that turn out to produce undesirable, often unpleasant, results. Mistakes are viewed in endlessly different ways, but the concept always includes the element of responsibility. Somebody did it.

    Sometimes mistakes pop like quick little whiplashes that generate momentary discomfort and embarrassment, then subside into the wash of ongoing experience.

    Other times they arise massively, unexpectedly. Through some unnoticed, untended accumulating series of factors, they burst upon you with paralyzing force. Back in the day, I suffered loss of executive support on occasion through my inattention. I didn’t notice the judgments that were building up in higher places because of my thoughtless, inappropriate actions and comments.

    And there are situations in which you see it coming, as a developing relationship or circumstance is shadowed by threatening clouds. It's surprising how often we don't take this seriously. Take it seriously. Fix it. You don't need unforced errors.

    We all make mistakes. We all will continue to make mistakes. We hope they won’t happen, maybe are tempted to scramble away when they do, deny their occurrence or downplay their effects. All of those are transparent and self-defeating. Dumb.

    Let’s instead acknowledge we’re human, take the hit and get on with it. Avoidance and evasion are exhausting and demeaning. You don’t fool anyone, and you damage your standing with the people who see you doing it.

    There is no way to avoid making mistakes. If you try to avoid mistakes by doing nothing – that’s a mistake. Or would be, if it were possible.

    You Can’t Ignore It

    As a manager, you have to engage the problem. One mistake-hater can kill a workplace. In the presence of such a person, co-workers find that caution is ever-necessary. It is less dangerous than creativity and innovation.

    When you try something new, you’d better be very careful to make sure it will work, or that it isn’t too different from what we’re doing already.

    There is a predator on the prowl, and the effect is chilling.

    Your personal attitude becomes more inhibited and less enthusiastic. It’s better to just keep your head down. Commitment and contribution tail off as people avoid possible embarrassment and nurse their suppressed anger. Some join in a growing culture of attack and counterattack, sarcasm and negativism.

    The instigators are dangerous because this visceral revulsion of theirs doesn’t stop mistakes. It doesn’t even stop the very mistake-hating persons from making mistakes, and it doesn’t cause them to help their co-workers and organizations conduct mistake-free business.

    Nor does it necessarily mean they try particularly hard to avoid mistakes. It just means they hate mistakes. Too often, this attitude is a marker for a whole nest of submerged problems.

    Your response as a manager is to make sure you detect the phenomenon at its start,

    separating it from the healthy give-and-take of organizational discussion and decision-making.

    What Do You Do?

    If you ascribe overmuch to the open-management concept of free idea exchange, you may miss it. Occasionally, someone will say, “I hate mistakes.” That’s a red flag that cannot be ignored, but it’s rare. Behavior can be seriously destructive without being that obvious.

    It is an essential management skill to determine when a staff member’s behavior calls for intervention. Good managers are very sensitive to the difference between respecting individuality and permitting destructive practices.

    There are shades of difference in the attitude, short of the true mistake-hatred practitioner. Some people are as demanding of themselves as they are of others, and as publicly critical of themselves. Some are motivated by a fierce devotion to the organization. Some of just really short on relationship skills. No matter what shade it is, it still damages productivity and job satisfaction.

    My conviction is that the manager should get involved long before negativism has a chance to infect the group’s collaboration and creativity. In fact, it is your business to devote yourself to getting to know each of your people from the moment you meet him or her. Workstyle problems need to be nipped in the bud.

    Those you work with need to know the values that underly your leadership. Relationships must be open and honest. Avoidance is unacceptable, and so is a destructive attitude. The manager understands a person’s tendencies, and provides the right guidance and discipline to direct each contributor toward building and maintaining productive relationships.

    Shaw Had It Right

    Successful organizations understand that growth means integrating innovation into regular performance – accepting and managing an error rate as high as 40 percent in truly advanced groups.

    They know mistakes are inherent in the pursuit of continuous improvement. They learn how to make them with minimal damage to the operation – and maximum payoff in organizational growth and staff development.

    Individuals, in their own context, should be encouraged to function in a similar way.

    Playwright George Bernard Shaw had a crisp way of putting it: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful, than a life doing nothing.”

  • May 05, 2013 4:37 PM | James Milliken

    The project manager is the designated expediter of unrealistic expectations. 

    That calls for superb political skills, and an extra gear for creativity.

    If this thing is a real project, the stakeholders with the hammer – the ones high in the sponsoring organization – are sure there’s a pot of gold somewhere in that fog of uncertainty, and they’re often impatient for the project manager to deliver it to them.

    They are both the investors and the customers of the project. You can’t expect them to pour unlimited resources into the effort, and it’s not their job to figure out how to get the desired result. But they sure do want that payoff.

    Elsewhere in the project, there are numerous dependencies – required supporters -- without whose vigorous participation the outcome cannot be achieved. Few of them have reason for spontaneous enthusiasm about the relationship.   

    There are managers whose staff members, materials and facilities must be withdrawn from their functional operations to support this project of yours. Those resources were there in the first place because the operating managers needed them to meet their own performance requirements. Now the resources must be surrendered, and there is not a commensurate return for the functional manager.

    And then there are the working people at all levels of the operation, often the most busy and burdened, who are chosen to add a new set of tasks – quite frequently tasks that are demanding and disruptive.

    Project Manager – the catbird seat in all this -- is not a job for those who prize routine. The Project Manager must be effective at organizing disparate parties and unlike activities that often defy coordination. Those process skills must be integrated with high-level communication and persuasion. And more.

    This issue of a wildly jumbled challenge often is obscured in the midst of daily worklife. Projects, real projects run with true Project Managementaren’t as frequent as we might have thought. Many people designated as Project Managers, and seen as being so, don’t have the problem. They actually are managing processes, not Projects.

    Process is orderly – the more orderly the better. Process rewards careful, unchanging repetition. The more closely one’s actions adhere to the previously identified center line, the better the process meets its requirements. That’s efficiency, and it’s a good thing. It achieves the predetermined outcome with the least possible deviation from the predetermined process.

    If it weren’t for defined, disciplined processes, the toilets wouldn’t flush, paychecks would not arrive. Things wouldn’t work. Process is absolutely, fundamentally necessary. The problem occurs when we embark on a nonroutine Project armed only with the measured practices of conventional management, plus fond hope that they will somehow do the job in this unique, complex new circumstance.

    The genius of the Project Manager is in understanding when and how to depart from firm management control and engage situations never seen before, or maybe just never engaged before.

    Such engagement is most successfully handled by people who can keep a varying number of unlike moving objects aligned through an unhelpful landscape. Time does not stand still or slow down. The skill set is characterized by some management specialists as being significantly different from that of competent general management.

    Project Management, managing real Projects, can’t be done on autopilot. The overall progress of a Project is not orderly. It has significant elements – sometimes dominant ones – that require innovation, invention and trial and error. Yet, it has chunks of routine embedded in its shifting flows of unpredictable challenge. It is easy to select those familiar pieces and overstate their importance in the whole.

    The current narrative among the nation’s intellectual leadership doesn’t help. The perceived shortfall in American education must be overcome, we are told, by a crash program in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

    We in Project Management say, “Wait a minute: Don’t all these highly skilled STEM people have to come up with ideas, collaborate in problem solving with others? Let’s have some realistic balance here.”

    We have seen, especially in Project Management, how brilliantly skilled people can be severely handicapped by inability to function in group and organized settings.

    A couple of interesting insights showed up recently in support of organized creativity as an important but undervalued workplace factor.

    Here’s one, from Fletcher Kittredge, CEO of GWI of Maine, a telephone/Internet company that has been one of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the United States for two years running. In comments to a legislative committee about the most important skills for workers of the future, Kittredge said:

    “Start out with an arts degree.  Being able to be creative, to interact with people, is more likely to be important for someone’s career. . . . A lot of what we think of as STEM – that’s out of date. . . . Machines are getting smarter and smarter. What computers won’t be good at is judgment, reasoning. That’s where getting a liberal arts degree comes in handy. It teaches you to think.” (Portland Press Herald)

    Economist Chuck Lawton sounded a similar theme in a Maine Sunday Telegram column summarizing the skills required in the successive eras of Maine’s economic history. Looking to the future, he concluded: “The central skill is creativity – making connections and seeing the unknown, the perplexing, the out of order, the unexpected as challenging and fun.”

    That reads like Project Management, with the possible occasional exception of the fun part. Achieving general satisfaction among all those competing Project stakeholders is a political challenge of the highest order. Sound management is essential but never enough. You have to see possibilities no one else sees . . . and make them come true.

    That’s politics.

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