On a fairly regular basis, I am asked, “What kind of a consultant are you, Kevin?” I admit that my typical response has been to take the easy road by responding, “It depends.” For the last several weeks, I have begun to think more creatively on the nature, type, and roles of management consultants in organizations. I have served in various capacities as a consultant to a myriad of organizations; reflecting on what I do in the various situations can only help me get better. During these reflections, I have come to the realization that there are archetypes of management consultants.

Lawyers: Management consultants often are called in to act as lawyers. These engagements occur when an organization is need of specialized, strategic, decision-making advice. When done correctly, the consultants are called in to help an organization evaluate strategic options before they choose a major course of action. When done incorrectly, consultants are called in to help mitigate damage from actions, or even to address public relations disasters.

Engineers: One of the most popular role for management consultants is that of an ‘engineers.’ Most graduates take on this position as their first job after completion of their  studies. In this role, the consultant helps an organization to ‘build’ something, most commonly an information technology solution or a human resource process. The management consultant builds a new organizational artifact and helps an organization make it a part of its operational fabric.

Designers:  Consultants who act as designers, or architects, oversee the work of engineers who might later build something. Designers are involved in the process of architecting organizational re-designs, system integrations, and even process improvement projects. The major element that differentiates designers from engineers is that designers need to have broad knowledge about the business and industry in which the organization operates. Engineers, on the other hand, have deeper knowledge about their particular too lsets.

Doctors: There are management consultants who are called upon to work as doctors. They deal with specific organizational problems, when management knows that either 1) the organization needs a routine check-up, or 2) the organization is suffering from an ailment and needs a medication (fix) to remedy the situation. Management consultants that work as doctors have deep knowledge within specific domains and are often experts in these spaces. Doctor-like management consultants are common for issues such as employee morale boosting, global innovation team management, or assisting in managing organizational change programs.

Artists: The most eclectic of management consultants function as artists. These individuals bring innovation into an organization. They bring new ideas that the organization did not know were there and are meant to stimulate fresh thinking and reflection. Like Picasso or van Gogh, artists rarely come up with creations to meet specific needs of an organization. It is more common for organizations to recognize the value of their work and then bring their ideas into the organization. Like hanging a painting on the wall, the ideas are meant to stimulate the organization to fresh and invigorated thinking.

Coaches: Management consultants who have a track record of working with senior executives and organizational leaders are often called upon to take on the role of coach. This also happens to be my favorite role as a consultant.  In this role, the coach serves as a confidant and mentor to an executive. Executives use their coach to help them improve their skills (from building effective business plans to creating effective teams).  In turn, the coach puts executives through a series of “exercises” to train them on how to become effective leaders.

How do you feel about this classification scheme? Have I missed any other types of consultants? What kind of management consultant do you want to be and why?

26 Responses

  1. Interesting and valuable classification Kevin. Edgar Schein had also done some work in the past regarding the Consultant client relation ship. A new version of this old book “Process Consultation” was updated in 1998:

    “Process Consultation Revisited focuses on the interaction between consultant and client, explaining how to achieve the healthy helping relationship so essential to effective consultation. Whether the advisor is an OD consultant, therapist, social worker, manager, parent, or friend, the dynamics between advisor and advisee can be difficult to understand and manage.”


  2. From my consulting experience: often we are called in as doctors or coaches, but then often do the work of designers, because the latter is often more “measurable”, easier to “sell” the consulting work.

    In fact, the lack of results from consulting may often happen due to mis-match between what consultants offer and what type of consulting organization really needs (which they often do not know anyway :-)).

    As I like to “organize” things, attached a very rough categorization of your types of consulters based on the “structure” and “work”.
    Two dimensions:
    – structure: how well defined is the problem for which the companies hires the consultants
    – work/consulting: are consulters supposed to produce direct/measurable results or just help organization with producing their own

    HIGH designers engineers
    structured problems lawyers doctor
    LOW coaches artist


  3. I had a read through it and I though about another type of consultant: Salesman. Those are the type of consultants that are brought in to enhance or promote the company in order to sell it a posteriori or simply to promote a certain technology and find buyers for it.

    To give a practical example, in 2007 a Slovenian entrepreneur requested help from consultants in order to sell its technology at the maximum price possible. Since he was an engineer by nature, he understood that having consultants which deal with business matters on a daily basis could bring him added value (i.e. – extra cash). While the entrepreneur had in mind only one potential buyer and one application for the technology, the consultants came up with several potential buyers both national and international as well as several other potential applications for the technology.

    Best regards,


  4. Excellent, Carlos. I like the idea of adding the salesman category. Do you have some good examples of where the salesman-type has worked well and where it has failed?

  5. Would you say that the Coach consultant would be a possible sub-category of the Doctor consultant? It sounds like the Coach is brought in to help just one person (such as an executive) and the Doctor is brought in to help the entire organization. And could it be that by helping the executive you may be often solving the problem that is afflicting the entire organization? And therefore the Coach is a subcategory of the Doctor? Or am I way off base?

  6. I feel that this consultant scheme is effective mainly because the types of consultants you list and describe above, are unique and descriptive yet broad at the same time. I think you do a good job of capturing consultants in different fields. I want to be an “artist consultant” because I envision myself on a career path where I am utilizing innovation to bring new and fresh ideas/concepts to an organization. I believe firms will see value in my ideas and want to adopt them.

  7. Good point, Graham. I see coaches as being helpful to advance an executive (or maybe even a team). The thing with Doctor’s is that they will give you specific medications (fixes) on how to address a ‘specific’ problem. Coaches though are not in the business of doing fixing, but are focused on character development and long-term skill building.

  8. Thanks, Bobby. Being an artist-like consultant calls for fresh and radical thinking. The key is not to be focused on what an organization sees as the current challenges or opportunities, but think two/three steps ahead of them.

  9. This categorization of consultant types rings true for me (including the addition of the Salesman). The part I would add is that along with identifying the types of consultants you have also categorized the types of problems that organizations run into and the services that are needed to address those problems.
    Vision (Artists)
    Strategic planning (Lawyers) – Execute on Vision
    Architectural planning (Designers) – Execute on Strategy
    Development of products, services or workflow (Engineers) – Execute the Architecture
    Fixing of existing problems (Doctors) – Address point failure in any of the above
    Mentoring (Coaches) – Provide guidance in the management of any of the above

    The first five areas fall into a nice linear story. An organization can have a problem or opportunity in any of these. The important part is to understand what the type of problem is and then to make sure that the right consultant is brought in. Understanding this is essential as the “problem” is generally going to show up one level below the actual need. For example, if an organization is unable to execute on a set of services it may be that the architectural underpinnings are not sound. Thus, it may be easy to blame the people delivering the services when, in fact, the problem lies elsewhere. This is also where analysis of the problem is essential as it may in fact be that the architecture is not in place or it may be that the people providing the services do not have the training, expertise, organizational support, etc to deliver. Understanding the difference is essential. The problem that I often run into is that consultants are often brought into to solve the wrong problem.
    In this example, if the problem is mis-diagnosed then the consultant would most likely be hired to help deliver services or re-vamp the services team. The statement of work will probably call this out very clearly. However, if the problem is more structural in nature (architectural planning is required) then the consultant could very well come in, focus on the problem they were asked to focus on, deliver what was required of them and still leave the actual problem in place. So, this may explain why some consulting projects end up being expensive and ineffective (there are definitely other reason’s as well). It is clear that it is the responsibility of both the consultant and the organization hiring the consultant to make sure the problem is clearly identified. This may be a case where the customer is not always right.
    And perhaps this is points to the importance of the coaching. It is often the case that the best thing a consultant can do is simply to provide an outside perspective. So, while there are many aspects of coaching, one essential role is to help identify the scope of particular problems.

  10. This categorization is very good. But I don’t think you can assign each consultant to only one category. Every good consultant should be able to act in all six roles. If not for other because all roles are very much connected together. For example you cannot add inovation without building something new or at least change the business processes in some way.

    I think this categorization is very usefull when focusing on your strenghts and weaknesses and trying to improve yourself as a consultant. But once you’re in a company you have to join together all 6 in order to provide a quality consulting.

  11. As you start to look at the classifications what ones drives out the most revenue or provides the best results, it can depend on sector, but what really is the best one to be… or is it a compilation of each don’t you think? Each person does not just have one category and can come from one background. So we can in turn say that one person can be a blend or mixture but can favor one type of style more. I think that is what makes the most successful way to classify to truly understand style.

  12. @Zan – Good point. Yes, good consultants should be able to shift roles depending on their capabilities and organizational needs. @Zachary – Interesting question regarding revenue. I think regardless of sector, artist do have the potential to earn the most per/hr or per/time spent with clients, while engineers will have some of the lowest per/hr fees.

  13. Very interesting blog and assessment. I think that all the consultant “positions” are very accurate and interesting. Companies need all of these different kinds of consultants to maximize their companies potential, but that depends on how much the company is willing to spend on these different consultants I would have to say that my ultimate goal would to end up as a “coach” consultant, but that of course would require a good amount of experience before attaining that position. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us about consultant positions!

  14. I found the blog to be very informative and interesting! I felt the classification was very helpful and accurate. I, as well as many others believe the ideal individual would be a combination of all classifications. Ideally, I would find the Artistic management consultant to be the most innovative and also the most helpful. Therefore the Artistic consulting position would be the approach I would strive for. This one was most striking to me because I believe it is vital to bring new ideas and excited people with eccentric and unknown ideas. I really appreciated reading your blog!

  15. Kevin,
    Thank you for your insight regarding the various roles a management consultant might have throughout his or her career. My undergraduate Cost Analysis class has recently discussed the impact of the human element upon business plans, accounting systems, etc.; your examination of of the numerous ways in which human impact can show up within the business world is perfectly applicable to such material, and I really appreciate your sharing it via blog.
    I share your sentiments that Coach is the, dare I say, “best” (or at least most desirable, in my opinion) of such management roles. This role makes a point to push others toward success while providing them with the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve their goals. To combine the practicality of business sense with such personal elements as inspiration and encouragement is a testament to just how valuable the human connection is, no matter the context. I will certainly aspire to be this sort of management consultant, both within my current university setting and in the corporate world in years to come.

  16. Hi Kevin,
    Glad you liked the idea.
    I believe it is quite complex to state when a consultant is clearly successful or not. Do you mean the Salesman type would be successful when he books a deal and not successful when he does not? In the case I exemplified, the consultant was at the time successful since he found more alternatives and better deals than the entrepreneur himself for the technology that was for sale. Although, someone may argue that the deal the Salesman consultant arranged was not good at all given the actual application of the technology.

  17. This blog is very informative for me especially because I am still an undergraduate student trying to figure out what I want to do after I graduate. This classification scheme is brilliant because I can see how management consultants take a similar role to what a lawyer, doctor, designer, artist and so forth would do. Personally, if I could be a management consultant I would be a designer or artist because as an accounting and business major, many of my family and friends think that I might be too creative to be majoring in this because of my passion of art and design. However, I also really like the business path like what my parents have taken and personally excelled in subjects with numbers, hence my decision to major in accounting. With your classification, I realize how I can combine both my artistic passion and business sense to a company.

  18. Thanks, Kezia. I appreciate your comments. I am glad that you are looking at combining your analytical and artistic skills. Keep me posted as you advance in your career.

  19. @ Carlos – Salesman consultants are those that can sell services for their clients. So booking a deal is a big issue. Now, the ideal salesman will know what kind of deal to book for a given client’s needs so as to maximize their value and that of the organization.

  20. As a student studying information management, this framework was a particularly interesting framework with which to better understand the roles of consultants. The role of “consultant” is a goal for many of those in our program, the MS in Information Management at the University of Washington, Seattle. But understanding the real-world implications of this is often a lot to process, and a solid explanation like this is quite helpful.

    A note from myself and two of my colleagues, Norah Norah AboKhodair and Colin Anderson. While researching consultants and what they do for a case study, we found that there was *very* little data available on the process and results of projects consultants actually do. While interviewing a consultant, we were told that many projects never make it to implementation, and that there were often quite a disconnect between client and consultant.

    Of course, consultants can obviously used well in change initiatives and other projects for organizations, but we found that there was very little openness in the failures of consulting. For example, measuring the success of a consulting project seems an often arbitrary and vague process, and there is little-to-no real-example reflection in the industry on how these failures occur, and how these failures might be mitigated in the future.

    What would be interesting, from this student’s point of view, is an examination of both the strengths and weaknesses of these roles. And ultimately, how management styles have to change for the different roles to understand how to avoid the pitfalls that might be in the path of the consulting process.

  21. As a part of the Change Management class taught to us by Professor Desouza in Autumn’10, our team has written a case study on the role of consultants. With the help of what we learned in IMT 581 about the roles of consultants and the various types of consultants, we decided to write a case study in which we focused on to three specific roles – consultants as lawyers, engineers and doctors. With the academic advices from Professor Desouza, we have concluded seven key factors that a client should consider before hiring a consultant.

    To draw the key factor we have first discussed several case studies based on the role:

    – PricewaterhouseCoopers and Satyam Corporations scandal, where in PwC was involved in some fraudulent activities. PWC either could not identify the mismatched number on Satyam’s balance sheets or purposely ignored it. This case represents the role of consultants as doctors.

    – KPMG conducted an auditing fraud for its client Countrywide by getting involved in changing the companies’ accounts and tax sheets. This case represents the role of consultants as doctors.

    – Deloitte and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had a big legal battle over a big settlement which Deloitte had to pay LAUSD for failing in their technical project. Deloitte miserably failed to implement a SAP system for an academic pay roll system, a classic example of failed collaboration efforts. This case represents the role of consultants as engineers.

    – Accenture feud with Centrica, where Accenture failed in their effort to create a billing system for Centrica. Due to Accenture’s lack of responsibility when the defect showed up, it ended up in a nasty legal feud. Eventually, Accenture ended up paying a huge settlement. From all these cases, we talk about some insights that we learnt from each case study. This case represents the role of consultants as engineers.

    – Google and Conyer Dill & Perman case which shows how Conyer Dill & Pearman, a legal advising firm, helped Google cut its tax-rate from 35% to 2.4% using the ‘Double Irish’ and ‘Dutch Sandwich’ strategy. This case represents the role of consultants as lawyers.

    – Helsana Versicherungen AG and Accenture Consulting that shows how Accenture helped Helsana, a health care industry, implemented a data warehouse that was compliant with other existing technologies used in the company. Also, this system improved the company’s overall productivity as the executives and sales staff used this system to predict certain factors affecting the business. This case represents the role of consultants as engineers.

    – Booze Allen Hamilton and Defense Information System Agency (DISA) case which shows how Booze Allen Hamilton has worked through the implementing solutions for DISA in developing Digital Video Broadcast satellite which helps war fighters to send video and data transmissions using satellite resources. This case represents the role of consultants as engineers.

    Based on the seven case studies discussed above, we suggest the factors that client must keep in mind before hiring a consultant. The factors discussed are:

    1. Subject Matter Expertise (SME) – Subject matter expertise or domain expertise implies expertise in a particular area or topic. It is very important that a client company inspects the area of expertise of the consultancy firm. The area of expertise that the client company is looking for can be very specific which requires expertise in a particular domain. For such cases, client would want to evaluate the cost and risks of creating an in house SMEs or hiring an external SMEs. We suggest that any company facing challenges in extremely sensitive issues like legal issues or national security or complex technologies should consider hiring consultants who specialize in their domain.

    Case studies: Conyers Dill and Pearman, and Booze Allen Hamilton.

    2. Portfolio – Consulting firms create elaborate portfolios to sell themselves. A portfolio for a consulting firm lists all the different types of consulting services that they provide. This would include different industries and services such as auditing and advisory, strategy and operations consulting, supply chain, marketing, IT implementation, systems integration etc. The case studies we provide have a variety of consulting firms. Each of these firms has their own rich portfolios. For clients it is necessary to analyze the consulting firm portfolios to decide whether the business requirement they are looking for is met by the firm or not. It also helps clients evaluate different firms available in the market based on the cost and time.

    Therefore, we suggest that any client company facing challenges involving multiple services and industries should look at the portfolio of consultants and verify if the consultants have appropriate knowledge and experience in the diverse disciplines. This is particularly important while hiring consultants as Engineers and Architects because these consultants work in multidisciplinary industries.

    Case studies: Booze Allen Hamilton and DISA, and Accenture and Centrica.

    3. Trust – Trust is very important in the relationship between clients from consultants. Clients receive advices from consultants, and only when they trust in their hired consultants, they take the advices and start to implement them. Nevertheless, if clients do not take any trust measurements, they put their companies at danger. It is highly required that the consultancy firms make sure that they are very careful when it comes to trust. A client firm basis the entire transaction on trust as they expose their valuable data to the consultancy firm. The foundation of the client-consultant relationship is trust and it very important for the consultancy firm nourishes this relationship reciprocating through ethical services. It takes years of excellent service to establish company ethics in the corporate world but it just takes one mistake to ruin the established reputation.

    Case studies: Price Waterhouse Cooper and Satyam, and Booze Allen Hamilton and DISA

    4. Detail oriented – This is one of very crucial factors that any client needs to take into consideration when hiring consultants. The ‘attention-to-detail’ is a very important skill for consultants, especially when dealing with security and bank transactions. In one of the case studies above, some employees at Countrywide were able to bypass the audit process done by KPMG to falsify borrowers’ accounts. Obviously, when the case was discovered, the credential of Countrywide was decisively damaged, since they are the direct owner of the falsified accounts. The same goes true for technology consultants where they have to be minutely be aware of each and every client need and failing to do so results in big IT failures like in case of Accenture and Centrica feud. The prime reason behind the entire feud was the defect in the billing system created by Accenture for Centrica that caused the entire billing system to generate highly incorrect bills to its customers. This is purely technical defect because of some negligence on part of Accenture. Accenture is a globally known consulting firm known for its expertise in different domains. The chances that Accenture lacked the technology skills to design the billing system are highly not possible. The only reason this system failure occurred was due to some important detail skipped during designing or testing or implementing.

    We think that technology consultants or consultants who act as doctors (KPMG, PWC) have to be very detail oriented in their approach with clients. This is an important evaluating factor to be considered by clients for the above consultant roles.

    Case studies: KPMG and Countrywide, and Accenture and Centrica

    5. Leadership and collaboration – As a consultant it is a vital necessity to effectively communicate and collaborate with the client organization. Good collaboration and leadership skills are always a sign of a good consultant. If the consultant is able to better involve his or her consulting team along with the client company’s concerned teams, and sometimes some third party vendors through out the project duration, the better will be the understanding of the problem. A consultant can step into the client company and understand the real problems only when he is able to communicate or collaborate with all concerned parties.

    The Deloitte and LAUSD failed case study is an indicator of failed consultant and client collaboration. Had Deloitte established better relations with LAUSD by involving them more in their project and constantly seeking requirements and issues, this whole payroll project could have had a better success rate. It shows the lack of leadership on part of consultant to not effectively communicate the shortcomings of the product. Perhaps as consultants, Deloitte could have involved SAP AG (third party vendor) more to know their product since LAUSD (their clients) failed to provide them adequate technical information. Similar case was with the IT consulting firm Accenture when they soured their client relationship (with Centrica) by failing to take responsibility of their action when their system was still under warranty. Failing to take their responsibility in time ended up Accenture in a bitter legal feud with Centrica. There was immense loss to both – client and consultant in this case.
    With the help of above argument we would like to point out having an effective collaboration between client and consultants and consultants’ leadership skills while driving the projects are imperative for the success of the undertaken endeavor. This factor applies to any kind of consultants, be it lawyers or engineers or architects or salesmen.

    Case studies: Deloitte and LAUSD, and Accenture and Centrica

    6. Client relations – Communication is the backbone for maintaining a good client relation. A consulting firm cannot strive well without maintaining good client relationship. How well a company communicates with its clients depends on how well a company adapts itself to its client culture. A consultant has to continuously prove to its clients. Never take client contributions for granted. Client would hire a consultant to design a system or service. They might proactively get involved or might just stay away from this unless they are asked for any information.

    The Satyam and PricewaterhouseCoopers is a good case how non-professionalism failed their relationships. PricewaterhouseCoopers failed to meet the expectations of trust and honesty in the eyes of the Board of Directors of Satyam. They lost one of their biggest Indian IT client. This failed relationship in turn affected its relation with many other clients. They were criticized by many IT giants and other consulting firms for not acting ethically in their work.

    New prospective clients would definitely take this factor into account while looking for consultants, since previous clients provide recommendations and testimonials that help consulting firms create a good image in market.

    Case study: PwC and Satyam

    7. Think ahead – It is very important for consultant companies to think ahead and consider long-term goals rather than just focusing on achieving short-term goals. It happens so many times that consultants end up fulfilling the short-term requirements but ignore the futuristic impact of the solution they implement. A good example for role of consultants in considering the long term goal is the case in which Accenture implemented a futuristic data warehouse that not only helped Helsana to make their system compatible with other existing technologies but also made sure that it helps the executives and sales staff to make certain predictions based on the data analysis generated with help of this system. On the flip side, Google and Conyers Dill & Pearman is the good example where by they both focused on immediate goals. With the help of Conyers Dill & Pearman Google was able to cut down the tax rate from 35% to 2.4%. Nevertheless, they did not foresee that this financial gain would raise accusations against their ability to live up to their motto ‘Do no evil’. There are various articles that criticized Google of its actions and for being hypocrites. Had Google and Conyers Dill & Pearman foreseen this, they could have avoided playing with the reputation.

    In general, we would say that it is really important think ahead as a consultant to give the client the benefit in technological, financial and even social value. Consultants must think about technology in terms of its future use and scalability. Latest technology helps the company stay abreast with the continually changing technology, and in today’s world it is very important for companies to keep themselves technologically advanced. Other important factor that the consultant companies must always consider is the impact of the action. They must ensure that the actions they take not only give monetary gains but also provide them social and ethical gains in the corporate world.

    Case studies: Accenture and Helsana Versicherungen AG, and Conyers Dill & Pearman and Google

    We concluded by saying that consultants play vital roles in the growth of companies. As demonstrated above, companies have gained huge profits and benefits from hiring consultants, since they provide specialized knowledge and expertise. Consultants also use knowledge to look at the problems for more creative solutions, for example: the Dutch Irish and Double Sandwich. Yet, it is not always the promise that consultants bring good things for any organizations. We suggest that any organization evaluate the seven proposed factors before hiring consultants. The seven proposed factors serve to reduce risks that an organization faces when hiring the consultants.

    -Mansi Sharma, on behalf of my team – Tien Nguyen, Ruchi Junnarkar and myself

  22. Hi Kevin, thank your for this interesting classification. I may not have enough managerial skills to join the debate, but I can still present my point of view on the topic, as a software architect. Even if we mostly work for top management, our role with our clients rarely goes beyond Artist, Designer and Engineer. This is probably due to the fact that we are not hired as real consultants but as creators, who happen to possess some tools to influence organization (IT, BPR). Therefore I think that the mentioned three types happen to tend towards ‘construction’ and are progressive, while the other three seem more focused on consolidation. Maybe this is another parameter you can put in your studies. Otherwise, I agree that great consultants should have all the skills, major and minor.

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