What makes a good CRM Consultant?

The Right Stuff

When I was 13 years only I remember watching the 1983 movie “The Right Stuff”.  The movie was about the “space race” and the team of pilots/astronauts who eventually landed on the moon.  I remember thinking what makes these people special other than the obvious reasons.  What makes this particular group of people have the right stuff?  After all there were thousands of qualified people to choose from.    Was it there superior intellect, the superior athletic ability, stamina, or is it something else that is difficult to quantify?    History tells us that these people were handpicked to achieve a monumental task.  They were all experts in their fields and excelled and what they did.   They had an extraordinary task to accomplish under “extraordinary” circumstances and they succeeded but sometime as great risk and loss.

The Wrong Stuff

Later in life I actually became a commercial pilot and during my flight training I watched an educational movie called, strangely enough, “The Wrong Stuff”.  It was a documentary whose aim was to point out the breakdown in the cockpit during stressful circumstances such as in-flight emergencies.  There were many different responses by flight crew depending on their background, training, and individual personalities.  Some ex-military fighter pilots tended to over control the cockpit which caused them to stop delegating important tasks to other crew members.  Some civilian pilots had a very hierarchical approach to the cockpit as well.  The captain was considered the “boss” and his judgement was seen as the last word and not to be questioned by the other crew members.  There are many cases when the co-pilot or flight engineer sat idly while the captain crashed the plane.  It seems very counter intuitive that the same people who could fly a space craft to the moon could be a detriment in a commercial airliner cockpit, but you have to understand….these are two different approaches to a similar task and therefore require different skill sets.  A flight to the moon is a risky business while flying a commercial airliner is supposed to be routine.  The differentiator may seem small but in reality it is very big.  Today’s commercial airline pilot will fly the same plane daily and is expected to keep everything within very strict limits at all times.  The crew mitigates the risk to passengers, themselves, and the airplane.  They typically have years of experience which helps them to foresee any potential problem and act long before something terrible happens.  So the real difference between a commercial airline pilot of today and a NASA test pilot is the risk tolerance.  This says nothing about the underlying capabilities of each group.  Just the approach to the task.

CRM — Crew Resource Management?

In order to correct these problems the aviation industry implemented a new training program known, coincidently, as CRM (Crew Resource Management).  The intent was to break down the hierarchal structure in the cockpit and have crews work together as a team instead of as individuals.  CRM is now a standard in the aviation industry and you’ll want to bet the captain on the next flight you take has had lots of training in it.

CRM vs CRM — Parallels

As a Microsoft CRM consultant I see a lot of parallels between these two worlds.   I have worked with many different consultants on a variety of different project over the years.  Every consultant I’ve worked with has had different approaches to implementing CRM.  Some approaches were slightly different and some radically different.  Even when skill and experience are equivalent the approach is sometimes the factor that indicates to me whether they have the “Right Stuff”.   

Understanding Where You Are Going

For Purely CRM, the “Right Stuff” is a consultant who not only takes the time to understand the client’s requirements and processes but also ensures that they stay within budget and scope while mitigating risks.  This usually starts by having a clear picture of where we are going, setting expectations, confirming them with the client and working to meet the objective.

It’s a great thing to know a lot about CRM, but if you attempt to fly the client to the moon when they only needed to go to “New York” then you are not doing a good job as a consultant.   If the client needs to go to “New York”, then the right approach is to carefully plan the route, check the weather, do a preflight inspection, make sure we have enough fuel, and set off to our destination.  While en-route we may need to make slight course corrections but we know exactly where were going and how were are going to get there.

This is truly the difference between a CRM consultant with the “Right Stuff” and a test pilot.