My last year or so here at OpenCredo has involved a very well-supported first foray into tech consultancy. Different engagements pose both unique, as well as familiar challenges for me as a consultant, all of which played a part in shaping and moulding the way I understand and approach problems. This blog is a brief collation of wisdom that’s helped me the most during this adventure; gained by learning the hard way, as well as that acquired from mentoring and colleagues who have gone before. The shared wisdom has made me a much more effective consultant, and kept me sane in the process, for which I’m very thankful.
- Keep a wide view
Always look beyond what you’re asked to do. Keep an eye out for the overall vision, architecture, and unknown unknowns. Make sure you’re building the right thing, not just building “it” right. Find ways of making people, including your primary stakeholder, take a step back and validate their assumptions.
- Prioritise correctly
You are not there to solve all of your client’s problems, nor make everyone at the client happy. This is not possible. You are there to enable and execute the vision of your primary stakeholder, and help guide the client to a better position in both yours and the stakeholder’s eyes. Everyone else’s happiness is a non-required bonus. My mentor gave me this advice at a time I was finding prioritising client work difficult, and was being pulled in a lot of directions; applying this maxim just melted the stress away.
- Understand your goal
Keep your understanding of your stakeholder’s needs and wishes up to date. Check in with them, make sure they’re happy with your work, and your focus. Insofar as is possible, read between the lines to understand their motivations and needs, because they won’t tell you everything.
- Seek feedback
Related to the above; seek direct feedback about your approach and effectiveness from peers and stakeholders. This will often make you feel more confident about your work. If something does need to change, your stakeholder will appreciate the direct approach.
- Make the right conversations happen
Form relationships with a wide variety of people client-side. Understand their issues and viewpoints, and how they fit into the organisation (if you can get an org chart, so much the better). As a consultant, you often have the opportunity to move between teams, and become a useful cross-cutting communication channel. Making the right conversations happen is a big part of your work.
- Seek others’ experience
Come back to your consultancy’s head office regularly (ideally at least once a week), and discuss the engagement with your peers. Often they’ve seen similar patterns and behaviours before, and can give excellent insight into how to tackle problems.
- Be confident in your strengths, and accepting of your inexperience
Clients are usually very happy with the help you’re providing. They aren’t expecting you to know everything upfront. Don’t fall prey to impostor syndrome because you didn’t know something.
- Success is measured by your overall impact
Measure your success by the overall change you effected on a project. You can expect to lose a day to build issues, or for it to take a while to get the pipeline into the right shape. Be happy that you took some time to give the end-to-end architecture some attention; thought and design is work too. Look at what’s being built, envisage what would have been built without your input. Be happy about the changes you have introduced.
- Avoid going native
You’re effective at your job, and this is great. However, people may come to see you as a way of getting work done, and will gradually rely on you more and more. Make sure you only take on tasks that move you towards your engagement’s overall goal, and set time boundaries. Take your lunch hour. Go home on time. Make sure you come back to the consultancy’s head office frequently. Spending extra hours trying to make everyone you meet happy will just burn you out, and make you less effective overall.
- Find and refine your interaction style
For example, mine is starting to take shape, a blend of enthusiasm and asking plenty of questions. It’s built from approaches I’ve seen various consultants and tech leads take over the years, my own nature, and ideas that stuck with me from How to Win Friends and Influence People (a surprisingly positive book, despite its title; I’d recommend it to anyone).
- Keep a wide view
With thanks to my colleagues at OpenCredo for sharing this knowledge at one time or another.