FORD – a model for consulting

A little over three years ago, a dialogue began in one of my consulting classes that I teach for Sage. The conversation focused around the levels (I am not convinced levels is the right word) of consulting. In the end, the group proposed the following four levels: Findings, Options, Recommendations, and Decision. Serendipitously, this yielded the acronym FORD. (I personally own a Honda Pilot.)

This model has served me quite well over the last few years, so I thought it worthy of a post wherein I will briefly define each level and provide some overall thoughts about the model.

  • Findings – these are the issues (problems, opportunities, and desired results) that the consultant uncovers through a question and answer process, referred to by most as discovery.
  • Options – these are the different possibilities that the consultant proposes for solving the uncovered problems, seeking the opportunities, or achieving the desired results. A great consultant always includes, “Do nothing,” as an option.
  • Recommendations – this is the option (or options) that the consultant believes would be the best course of action for the customer. Making recommendations would usually include a list of advantages and disadvantages (pros/cons, positives/negatives, strengths/weaknesses, whatever you want to call them) of each options and a rationale for why the option(s) was(were) selected.
  • Decision – one of the various options or a variation of the options is selected for implementation.

A few observations about the model:

  1. Each incremental level increases the level of risk on the consultant and requires an higher degree of knowledge. Since risk and knowledge required are factors in setting price, an engagement to just collect findings will be less expensive than an engagement to present options and an engagement to present options will be less expensive than an engagement to provide recommendation.
  2. If you are making the decisions you are not a consultant, but what Peter Block would call a surrogate manager. He defines this as “a person who acts on behalf of or in place of a manager.” Surrogate manager-hood is not bad in and of itself, but it is way more risky and deserving of a premium price.
  3. Being a consultant or a surrogate manager is a strategic decision. Some people may choose to never enter the fray as a surrogate manager and only remain in the role of consultant. This leads to what could be another blog post – the paradox of consulting – which is that consultants are paid to not make decisions.
  4. It is critical to have a conversation early on with every customer or prospective customer as to the level of consulting in which they would like to engage you. Failure to do so causes not only pricing problems, but myriad of other problems that are out the scope of this post.
  5. I believe that all professionals are consultants of some kind. Doctors are consultants on the anatomy and physiology of the human body; lawyers, on the law and legal system; accountants, on accounting practices, etc.

I welcome any comments and any suggestions on a better term than my proposed levels.


  1. Ed,

    I use the term Consulting Intensity (CI) or Engagement Intensity (EI) or even Value Density (VD), depending on the context.

    It’s the synergy of Discipline * Level of engagement * Expertise level * Accountability * Focus * Commitment * Challenge * Use of resources * Energy * Enthusiasm * Passion * Devotion to Excellence * Responsiveness * Interest

    The surrogate manager is a great point. It happens sometimes that the client sits back and relaxes, while demanding results from the consultant.

    Rendering value vs. Interpreting value. Consultants can render value but clients must interpret, integrate and internalise value in order to benefit from it and turn the value into specific results.

    So, value delivery [realised] = Rendering value by consultant + interpreting + integrating + internalising value by the client.

    I think we have to tell clients that it’s their responsibility to turn that value into results.

    Peter Block’s illustration again: ?We are the Southern County Rounders and you are the audience.? I thought that they understood something profound about the relationship between them up front and us in the cheap seats. By naming us they declared that we, the audience, had a job to do also. That we had to join in creating the performance.

  2. Thanks, Tom. Your points are well taken. I like “intensity level.”


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