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Collaborative Consulting - Publication Review by Ivor Macfarlane

I have just read through the newest book to carry the official ITIL logo: Collaborative Consulting by Peter Brooks. First of all let me say I liked it - and I think it will be a valuable source of sound common sense to many making the jump into consultancy in our industry.

In the second paragraph of the introduction, we are told that this book is a 'practical guide to consulting collaboratively with your stakeholders.' In fact - well to my eyes anyway - the real messages of the book are signposted even before that, in the very first paragraph, by the words 'welcome to the .world of service management consulting.' What we have here is a book introducing some of the important aspects of, attitudes around and techniques to deliver consulting services. So here is something for those fairly new to the game.

In my experience, many books that set out to make you better at your job, or purport to groom you for new jobs, take themselves far too seriously. Reading them, you are - tacitly or explicitly - encouraged to recreate yourself in the image of the author. That's a very hard thing to avoid, since the mere act of writing an informational book implies an invitation to imitation. And being asked to write it implies that at least one other person (presumably his commissioning editor in this case) also believes you are clever enough to tell others what to do.

And yet overall Peter has managed to avoid this, by keeping his book both broad and simply stated. In fact it answers very few questions; that, in this context, is a very good thing because instead it obliges the reader to ask themselves the right questions, the questions they must answer if they are to become their own kind of consultant. This book is packed with triggers to make the reader examine how they would approach things.

It seems to me that you know a book feels right when you keep saying to yourself - 'yeah, that's right and then you could do ..' And that is what I found happening to me as I read it, seeing where the ideas and concepts introduced could be developed and expanded for the particular circumstances you might find yourself in. As well as a good guide for the new entrant consultant, it provides a great aide-memoire and trigger document for those managing consultants and committed to helping them develop their career.

What is actually in there? Well, the book addresses a wide spectrum of considerations for consultants, ranging from basic skills like pricing and planning through to useful concepts to master-like negotiation, personality types and common sense views on the broad concept of management. I was delighted also to see it address head-on some topics that too often get suppressed or slipped to the side, with a chapter on ethical consultancy and the advice on knowing when to walk away when necessary.

The book ends with two scenarios to illustrate the concepts. I didn't find them as useful as I thought I might, but I suspect that is because I had already read and liked the concepts advanced throughout the main body of the book. Someone actually facing the task for the first time will likely find the second scenario, based on a smaller organization, a really useful starting point for their own preparation.

This is a book written in the true - and sometimes ignored - spirit of ITIL as generic guidance to build your own work and ideas on. It is not a style guide, rather it's a vital tool for those who want to create and enhance their own style as consultants.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book as an essential tool in the armoury of new and wannabe consultants. The guidance is built around ITSM concepts but almost everything in here is good basics for anyone called upon to share their experience with customers - internal or external. Buy it and read it if you are starting out, thinking of jumping from a job actually doing to one where you help others to do. And if you are managing consultants, I think you will find some really good stuff here that could help you to help others in their consultancy roles.

One last word; I've touched on it being an ITIL book so of course it mentions ITIL a lot, but nothing in here really requires deep knowledge of ITIL, nor is its value limited in any way to ITIL devotees. The guidance and coverage is good solid generic stuff. We understand that - as part of the larger ITIL library - it must cross refer and indeed cross-sell. However, if you are not an ITL fan but still a consultant - or wannabe consultant - you will still like this book. But best read the bibliography backwards - the last three books mentioned therein are the added value, after you have waded through all the usual ITIL, PRINCE, M_o_R, etc. that turn up in every ITIL bibliography.

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