Cowboy IT service management (ITSM) consultants – there are too many of them out there. Just because someone knows some of the language, or because they’ve been on an ITIL course or read the books, doesn’t make them good. Yes, consultants need an appreciation of the text-book knowledge, and maybe a few qualifications and training courses will also help, but there’s no substitute for real practical experience, and lots of it.

Succeeding once does not make one an expert

It really makes me mad when I see someone presenting at an ITSM conference, positioning themselves as an expert, trying to get the audience to hire them as a consultant, when I know for a fact that what they’re presenting will not work in very many situations. Often because their case study is based on them doing it, and hopefully succeeding, only once!

The great psychologist, Freud was often criticized for generalizing what he had observed in his patients. His clients tended to be sexually-repressed, middle-aged, Viennese women. Yes, some of his theories would probably be broadly right when applied on a global basis, but many would not, or they would need major rework to apply to the general population.

How many organizations have experienced the ITSM version of this? Unfortunately, there’s a whole host of people out there offering their ITSM opinions – some of these are probably really good, but unfortunately some could be extremely dangerous.

There are many more opinions than there are right (or even good) answers

I’m as guilty as the next person in terms of offering opinions and advice, as I sometimes take part in ITSM discussion forums and, as a practicing consultant, I guess my job involves giving my opinion and sharing my knowledge based on my experience.

My advice may help some people, but not others. However, I always make sure that I’m only offering advice on things I’ve done many times, and if I’ve only done it once or it’s not my area of expertise, then I’ll refrain from commenting. It’s the right thing to do.

Plus, there’s a limit to how well you can understand the questioner’s particular situation in a LinkedIn Group discussion, so the advice is unlikely to be as good as the guidance offered after a proper assessment of the situation and time spent gathering the facts and fully understanding the context.

However, sometime people want to post a question and get a quick high-level (and free) answer. But how are people supposed to work out whether any particular piece of advice is good or not?

Understanding the credibility of an advice-giver

Check out the profile and experience of the person offering the advice. Just because someone says that they’re an expert doesn’t mean they are. Satisfy yourself that you trust them to give you good advice.

It’s not just a general credibility check – it also needs some semblance of context. So, check if they’ve faced this particular situation several times in similar circumstances. See if they’ve a balanced view, where they’re sharing what didn’t work as well as what did.

Remember that there are few if any “silver bullet” solutions in the ITSM space – and what works for one organization might not work for another, or at least not without some adaptation to suit the specific needs, culture, and maturity of the organization.

The age-old adage applies here – “If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.” There’s always some effort and risk involved. Give the provided advice the “sniff test,” if it smells like BS then maybe you should trust your intuition or at least check more carefully until you can decide whether you trust the consultant and their advice, or not.

Ultimately, the only way for the industry to get better ITSM consultants is for organizations to stop using those that aren’t good (at least in “driver” roles). There is of course an argument that says cowboy consultants will get better over time – as their experience grows. But does your organization really want to pay (and not only in monetary terms) for such consultants to be learning from their mistakes? Or does it want to employ consultants that have already demonstrated the ability to consistently deliver against ITSM and business needs? I know I wouldn’t want to use someone who now calls themselves an electrician because they’ve successfully rewired their own home.

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Matthew currently serves on the SFIA Council, is Chair of the itSMF International Ethics Review Board, and contributes to the Service Management industry and the development of best practice – including as Design Authority for SFIA V6. He is Director and Principal Consultant of BSMimpact, an ISO/IEC 20000 qualified consultant and auditor, and SFIA Accredited Consultant, specialising in implementing pragmatic business service management solutions rather than just theoretical consulting. He has considerable practical and operational experience of Service Management. Matthew’s authoring credits include SFIA (Skills Framework for the Information Age), Service Management, Portfolio and Programme Management methodologies, white papers, books, articles and publications.