Dead Wood Deliverables

14 June 2024

Consulting 101: Dead Wood and Deliverables

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Consultant to the Consultants; photo by Antti Leppänen via Wikimedia Commons…

Deliverable (n.): Report or item that must be completed and delivered under the terms of an agreement or contract. —

Even though the U.S. has a service-based economy (meaning, “sorry, we don’t make things anymore”), clients still want products they can hold. They request the fruits of our education and experience, which we divulge in meetings. Yet they won’t really value all that mad science unless they can touch it. Why?

Here in post-industrial America, every other adult is a self-proclaimed consultant, coach, manager, agent, producer, director, strategist, facilitator, intermediary, advisor or (thanks to social media) guru. Some have MBA’s and JD’s, others fancy offices and $2000 suits. So what distinguishes the true experts from geeks bearing grifts?

You guessed it: deliverables. It’s a horrifying Frankenstein-monster of a word that consists of a verb (“deliver”) + an adjective (“able”) to = a noun “deliverable.” Curses to the first person who coined it (likely a management consultant with an MBA). Nonetheless…

Pretenders chatter; experts deliver the goods.

In most cases, that means some kind of report – and not just an email filled with “action items.” To warrant our fees, we consultants employ all the term-paper tools we thought we had left behind in school:

  • primary and secondary research to justify our decisions, all referenced with footnotes and bibliographies
  • charts and tables and graphs
  • all the report accoutrements: cover sheet, table of contents, executive summary
  • detailed, step-by-step recommendations for implementation, including dates and costs
  • more charts and tables and graphs
  • a big juicy appendix filled with as much dirt on the client’s competitors as possible — nothing motivates clients more than knowing what the enemy is up to
  • did I mention charts and tables and graphs?

This report should encompass all of Microsoft Office: a Word doc, Excel spreadsheets, and a PowerPoint. But ultimately, what convinces clients that their dollar was well spent is a blood sacrifice – more exactly, a sap sacrifice: a tree must be killed, and a final report delivered on its pulp. That report might never get fully read, and it will likely get entombed in a steel cabinet for future generations of archaeologists to ponder, but at least the client once had the opportunity to touch it and hold it.

Now I say this mockingly, but in all seriousness, keeping clients happy – and compelling them to come back for more – involves going beyond mere advice.

So in addition to reports, you should throw in a bit of creative content, such as a press release, fresh copy for their website, or a small digital ad campaign.

Why go to such lengths?

Since anyone with a LinkedIn profile can (and does) anoint themselves as “experts,” you need to provide something that makes the pretenders blanch in horror: actual work.

Now “deliverable” isn’t the only verbal atrocity perpetrated by us business droids. We also turned the noun “leverage” into a verb, and the verb “reveal” into a noun, for which we’re doomed to spend eternity reading nothing but academic journals (the horror, the horror). The key point: all consultants use such jargon; the ones who earn their keep turn those words into a nice stack of dead wood.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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