Consulting 101 – Part 1

Throughout my career, I have had the benefit of working with some very wise people.  I tried to listen closely and absorb their words.  I have had the benefit of passing some of this wisdom on to others.  I have had several requests to write up some of the knowledge that I’ve gathered about consulting.

These are the rules of being a successful consultant.  Some of them also pertain to any career, and even life in general. (but some don’t)

Pre-rules: Everybody knows that you should be honest, hard working, intelligent, reasonable, etc.  If you aren’t those things, then these rules won’t help you.

#1 – Make sure they like you.  It is actually more important that the customer likes you than anything else.  Its even more important than doing a good job.  I’m not saying that doing a good job is not important.  It is very important.  However, if you do a really really great job but you are a total a*hole.  They will hate you and it will overshadow your work.  They will count the seconds until you leave and they will do anything they can, to live without you.  On the other hand, if you are likeable, they may be lenient with you and they will want to help you.  So, if you are into consulting, make this your #1 priority.

2 – Make a plan, stick to the plan.  (I swiped this brilliant quote from Acquity).  You need to satisfy the person (customer) who is [signing your check and decides if you stay or go].  This person will probably be too busy to look over your shoulder and doesn’t want to hear excuses.  Making a plan, means writing up your intentions and making sure that document gets in the hands of the boss.  Think about this: every time the plan changes, you should give the boss a revised version of the plan.  If you are giving the boss a new document too often, you will start to look stupid or disorganized.  Things will change (see #3)

3 – Contain the scope of the project.  Requirement gathering is tough.  Odds are, you will miss something.  As early as possible, be sure to set the expectation that this is “phase 1” of your plan.  Any new things that come up, will to go into “phase 2”.  That way, people won’t panic when they realize that they missed something and they can’t live without that one miniscule feature.  You can simply assure them that it will be completed in phase 2 and it is written down now, so no one will forget it.  Management might get a little nervous when you start talking about “phase 1, 2, 3…” when they have only agreed to pay you for phase 1.  You can reassure them that you totally agree and you are not making any assumption that YOU will be doing phase 2…  However, if they like the work you did in phase 1, you hope they will choose you for subsequent phases.  It also can help the boss set a budget and pace the project.  win-win.

4 – Don’t “know everything”.  When I first started consulting, my mentor told me that I needed to be the best person at the job site and I should never say “can’t” or “won’t” or “I don’t know”.  So, if I didn’t know, or didn’t know how to do something, I had to stall or tap dance until I could come up with an answer.  At one particular job site, the customer’s employees started getting irritated that I seemed to know it all.  So they became very determined to find and reveal a flaw in me.  When it happened, they all jumped up and cheered, like “TOUCHDOWN!”, their football team had scored.  It was awkward.  From that experience, I learned that it is good to walk into a new site and admit that you don’t know everything.  My routine goes like this: “I know about this thing and this and this, but I don’t know about that.  You guys are masters of that and I bow to your expertise in that field, but I’m going to be Mr this-this-this and you can always be Mr that. You rule at that.”  Your teammates will feel pride at being superior to you and will be more comfortable with relenting on a few issues as long as they can retain their pride.

5 – Be flawed.  When you walk into a place and seem like you are teflon coated, some people are suspicious of you.  If you seem so perfect, they figure you are hiding something.  So seem like you aren’t hiding something.  Reveal some small character flaw that is not a big deal, but people can have a chuckle over it.
Good ideas: I am a big fan of (any sports team that doesn’t win all the time), I have a mild case of OCD, I’m afraid of spiders, I don’t like asparagus, Sometimes, when I think I am alone, I will start jamming on my air guitar, I suck at basketball and make short people feel so proud when they school me at b-ball.  Golf? I downloaded it but never installed it.
Bad ideas: I have a restraining order against me, I gamble too much, I’m an alcoholic, I have a wife and two girlfriends on the side, etc.
The first group is funny or a little embarrassing, the second is just way too dark and could suggest serious character issues or could mean legal hassles.  So, reveal some light, funny flaws, but be nonchalant and reveal these sometimes.  (Think of how the TV series, Friends, revealed the funny flaws of the characters over time.  Funny, but never dark.)

Read on in Part 2

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About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
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