For most of the last 25 years I have worked in a consultative capacity; during that time I have come to a set of principals that define what I consider an ethical frame work as a consultant.
Honesty: Time, Talent and Tools
In all interactions with a client honesty is the foremost byword. This shows up in three areas.
Time: Projects take time. Estimating how long a project takes is a skill that develops with experience. When providing an estimate to a client always use your best judgement as to how long the project will take enumerating the tasks to be completed and the potential unknowns. If an accurate estimate is not possible due to a lack of understanding you should consider if this is the correct type of project for you to be working on.
Talent: When I speak about talent I am thinking about the sum of the things that you or people you work with have a strong understanding of. When starting a project my rule of thumb is that my team should understand at least 80% of the project scope. Why 80% though and not 100%? My assumption is that for any project, outside of turn key implementations, there is project specific knowledge that my customer has that my group will need to learn to best help out. A critical early part of any project is coming to terms with that unknown 20%.
Tools: There an old saying “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Selecting the correct tool for any job is important. Not forcing a tool because you work for a company or it is something you are familiar with is ethical. In the end select tools being aware of the cost (both of the tool and in time spent to work with the tool) versus the functionality (what percentage of the issue does the tool address.
Understand what customer needs…
A story I have often told is about the first consulting contract I worked on over 20 years ago. The customer requirements were well written, scoping things out fully. I had the required skill set to implement what they requested and the tools were available “in-house” for the customer. After 200 hours of work (out of an estimated 220) I handed over the finished product and the customer went away happily. However, in hindsight what the customer asked me to do wasn’t what they needed me to do; I solved the symptom, not the problem.
There are two things to take from this, first during the initial interview it is critical to get to a solid understanding of what the root issue the customer is trying to solve. Second it is important to be able to convey to the customer why a proposed solution may not address the underlying problem. (If you already know how to solve the problem then you are hiring a temporary employee, not a consultant).
Stand behind what you deliver
For most consulting projects the works is completed within a handful of months. The customer will continue to use what you to taught them and delivered to them for years. In the 25 years I have been working I have always been ready to speak with old customers about what I did to help them with the unexpected curves they hit.