Pilgrim Blue

The Pilgrim Blue Travel Journal

How we get to where we’re headed.

Three Tips to Prevent Consulting That Hertz

Last month the car rental company Hertz filed a lawsuit against the global consulting firm Accenture. The lawsuit states that Accenture failed to deliver on a redesign of the car rental companies website and apps. According to the lawsuit, Accenture failed to deliver on every single deadline. Accenture had billed $32 million and Hertz got nothing out of it. [1]

I think anyone who has hired a consultancy can see how something like this can happen. It’s literally your worst fear when you sign to a long term project. Most of the time clients don’t even address this fear directly or factor it in as a potential result of the engagement. Even in successful launches and engagements I’ve seen projects in my past working at some of the best agencies in the world require some tweaking to the scope of work to accommodate shifting requirements. Typically this isn’t a failure of the agency or the client, it’s a byproduct of how the two agree to work.

Engagements like the one Accenture and Hertz embarked on have a unique ability to go “off the rails”. There can be a multitude of factors. I can only assume to what those factors are, but given my experience I’m fairly certain that with a few changes this program could have gone much differently.

Baking Failure Into The Process

The problem of consultancies taking on too much is all too common. Clients issue RFPs that look for a huge solution and consultants that want the huge billings that come with that solution. The urge to over promise is strong and when you’re a monolith like Accenture, it’s easy to convince yourself that you can do anything.

According to the lawsuit Hertz did it’s due diligence in researching it’s current e-commerce activities and developed a roadmap itself, then issued an RFP and narrowed the field to Accenture and one other [2]. Accenture showed up to the final road with a massive. beautiful demo and a full days worth of pitch decks.

The combination of a presentation full of smoke and mirrors from the agency as well as the investment in the pitch process leads to agencies needing to commit to the huge project for the billings, having already spent a significant amount of capital before winning the bid. Factor in the failed pitches that need to be recouped for and you’re left with a roadmap to disaster.

Tip 1: Start with limited initial engagements

In Pilgrim Blue we look for small initial engagements to start a client relationship. In the case of Hertz we would have approached the project with honest initial conversation to asses the core needs and ask for a small initial budget to provide third party validation. If Hertz wanted to continue the RFP process and vet other agencies, that’s fine. They can use our research and recommendations in that and Pilgrim Blue is happy to serve as a third party check and balance against the project or take on the build ourselves, it’s completely up to our clients.

First, Do One Thing Well

I see this all the time in bigger agencies. It starts with a client stating “We want to fix 8 lines of business” and the agency taking that in and proposing a solution that works for 8 lines of business. The coordination of the requirements in this case almost guarantees failure. This is akin to going to an automotive engineer and asking them to build one kind of alternator that works on all makes and models. If the engineer is successful, there’s going to be incredible amounts of compromise.

Tip 2: Small & Scalable > Monolithic at scale

A gigantic solution leads to gigantic results and if those are negative results, they are left unmitigated. If you were steering a ship and needed to adjust your course, you could do one of two things. You could make a 20 degree shift one direction or you could take 20 corrections of 1 degree. If you’re completely infallible, both actions would result in the ship reaching it’s destination, but if you’re a normal human you aren’t infallible.

Obviously neither Accenture or Hertz is infallible, because if they were they wouldn’t have any competition. Because they both make mistakes, an error in a small calculation within the product roadmap could lead to missing the mark.

This is why Pilgrim Blue is an agency of 20 corrections of 1 degree. We bake fallibility into our process to avoid risk. Our process is designed not on the luck of one big win or a talented business development team to save our asses [3]. We bet our business on slow and steady progress.

In the case of Hertz, we would have isolated the smallest example of the core business, a cross channel platform that optimizes the customer experience. This would mean identifying a single micro-service that could be build to service one line of business, validate the results, modify the service if needed, then scale the service to the other lines of business. This would give Hertz immediate results (instead of waiting years for the project completion) while validating the direction in the meantime. Pilgrim Blue could then apply this process to another service while gathering data on the initial service and iteratively reach our destination. [4]

Be aware of your limitations

This is a point on the side of Hertz. They came into this process having researched the feasibility of accomplishing the program in house. They recognized the need for outside expertise and brought in a vendor that promised to fill that gap. In this case, Pilgrim Blue would have validated the internal lack of expertise and attempted to solve that problem, instead of making the core problem disappear.

Let’s pretend for a second that Accenture succeeded and delivered on its promise. What happens next? Does Hertz hire Accenture to maintain the solution indefinitely? Does Hertz coordinate an aggressive hiring sprint to staff up while the solution is developed?

Tip 3: Build First With Your Existing Resources

Any successful solution for Hertz would need to identify the risk of Hertz’s lack of capabilities that brought the need for Accenture in the first place. If you can’t solve the problem yourself now, why place a $32 million dollar bet on outside resources and hope for the best?

Pilgrim Blue looks to build capabilities instead of reliance. We’re not in the business of taking change orders or long term development engagements. We can make a proof of concept and handle any software development needs you might have, but we’re not going to own your digital footprint. We want to empower you by guiding improvements through internal resources and grafting our developers to your development lifecycle to accelerate development. During this process we have the ability to assist in hiring bringing in talent to replace our team so you can continue the process yourself.

Our spiral methodology is designed for exactly this, to limit our involvement while expanding your capabilities.

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[1] Accenture sued over website redesign so bad it Hertz: Car hire biz demands $32m+ for 'defective' cyber-revamp

[2] The Hertz Corporation vs Accenture LLP

[3] According to the lawsuit: Accenture ignored the specification that called for a medium-sized layout and developed the website for only small and large breakpoints, and demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional fees to deliver the promised medium-sized layout.

[3] Benefits of user-oriented software development based on an iterative cyclic process model for simultaneous engineering