10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do

consultant

A consultant (should be) someone who offers good advice. Many times this is advice based on subject matter expertise, experience, or other unique qualifications. However having a particular subject matter expertise or experience is only one facet of being a good consultant.

Great consultants have a lot more than just expertise – they understand how to solve problems and work with people. These skills aren’t just valuable to those who want to make a living providing advice professionally, they can help anyone who is trying to make a difference in any organization.

Great consultants help:

  1. Define problems – the key to solving the problem is often finding it.
  2. Establish scope – successfully solving some problems planning to break it into manageable chunks
  3. Find solutions – sometimes the solution is right under your nose, sometimes it takes being able to think outside the box or how it has always been done.
  4. Work to deliver – great consultants don’t just give advice, they help get you to the solution. Whether you are trying to bring you consulting skills to bear on an internal project or have been brought in to find a solution…roll up your sleeves!

The four items above form a pretty straight forward problem solving but getting them right is hard. You can and I have talked about different specific approaches to these things. At a more basic level I think there are some things I think everyone who works in teams or problem solving should think about.

These 10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do are things I like to remind myself of every so often because doing these basics well establishes a foundation for success over time.

  1. Listen more – Even if you have deep subject matter expertise most consultants would be better served to spend more time listening. I like to spend 60-80% of my time listening.
  2. Keep your personal opinions/life out of it – Especially for paid consultants but even with internal staff, the job is problem solving not discussing random life events. The less time we spend discussing the slopes, gym, love life or pets the more likely we are to solve something.
  3. Keep it positive – Even when things are bad, they could typically be worse and for most of us literal life and death do not hang in the balance. Focusing on the positive keeps even the most daunting tasks from becoming overwhelming.
  4. Take notes – I’m amazed at how rare note taking is…I don’t care where you take them (paper, iPad, computer) but take them. Not sure what to write? Anything that someone is supposed to do that doesn’t occur in the meeting, key on the following phrases (We should be…, the problem is…, someone needs to…, I’ve asked for…, the next step is..) Also…share your notes. You would be amazed at how few other people took them.
  5. Focus on results not effort – Nobody wants to hear about how you are working around the clock on something. Trust me people know hard workers when they see them and your results should speak for themselves. At the end of the day, I don’t care if you worked 4 hours or 10. I want the results.
  6. Do or Do Not – I hear all the time about how to multi-task “better” and shake my head. I hate multitasking. Do one thing. Get it done. Go on to the next thing. Running back and forth lowers overall quality and lengthens time to market. I can’t prove it but I can sense it. Oh and turn off that loud music!
  7. Take breaks – Sometimes I will literally go for a walk to clear my head. Problem solving requires a lot of focus and energy. If you find your attention drifting change tasks, take a break or otherwise give your head a chance to recover from recent effort.
  8. Tackle the tough stuff in the AM -Trying to solve complex problems is hard.  Trying to do it at 1AM after a 17 hour day isn’t going to happen. I like to split my work day so that most of the thinking is done in the morning and the more mundane and social tasks are in the afternoon. Most people are simply better prepared to problem solve in the morning.
  9. Do the research and include the research – Even when you know the answer off the top of your head go find the backing information. I’ve been amazed over the years at how often the right answer last year has been overtaken by advances in technology, business process changes, etc. I also always try to write up solutions to include references. I do this so it is easier for others to understand how I arrived at the solution. Also, I often need to go back to at least one of the 30 websites I looked at when developing the solution.
  10. Plan your problem solving efforts – Too often the plan for solving a problem is simply getting everyone in the room and talking about it. The end result too often is an agreement to meet again next week. Create a plan for your planning. Include agendas for meetings with clearly stated outcomes and objectives. Close meetings by checking against those items and ensuring action items are clearly defined and attributed.

Most of my 10 Big things every consultant (and you) should do are common sense. What is on your list? Do you have a repeatable approach to problem solving? Let me know @jmillsapps.

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Every Kickoff needs a Pre Kickoff

Everybody loves a good kickoff meeting and a lot of planning goes into making them go well. I agree…a great kickoff meeting gets everything moving in the right direction. However, I think the process should actually be backed up a step. Many times before starting an engagement I will ask for a Pre-Kickoff meeting. The purpose of this is threefold:

  1. Facilitate discovery – How many times have you started working on a project only to find that you left a critical stakeholder out of the first three meetings? Ever discover that the solution you are working on fixes the problem at hand but exacerbates a problem somewhere else? A good Pre-Kickoff provides enough free flowing dialog to help capture these types of scoping issues.
  2. Determine the appetite for change – Every transformation is going to have real and perceived winners and losers. This is a fact. You can sugar coat it, but doing so doesn’t make that fact go away. Having an open forum helps you understand where people feel they fall. Once you get a sense of where people are actually going to fall or perceive they are going to fall in the “Winners → Loser continuum” you can work to address that perception or reality.
  3. Gather the stuff – Yep…you can’t have transformation without stuff. The bigger the effort the more stuff that is usually involved. Creating an inventory of helpful materials can be a key step in ensuring that your project isn’t a net new effort. Getting the reports people are using to manage the business today, process models, system diagrams and other items helps you to get a jump on your project. It also sends a signal that you value the input of the existing stakeholders and the effort they put in before you showed up.

Pre Kickoff Homework

I admit it, I am a pretty informal guy. I like my pre-kickoff meetings to be pretty informal events, but a little structure isn’t a bad thing. Here are ten things I ask people to bring to my pre-kickoff:

  1. Your existing reports and management tools. This helps us understand how you are managing your business today so we can help facilitate this in the future. Discussing a particular spreadsheet can often uncover the manual, multi-system processes lurking beneath a management approach.
  2. A conceptualization of the role your organization, group, etc plays in the overall value chain. Organizational transformation needs to happen in the context of the big picture. Your Pre-Kickoff should play a key role in helping people think about it in those terms.
  3. Your stuff. Got process models, system diagrams, etc? Bring them. No matter how rough they help us get insight into how you are thinking about the As-Is and To-Be environment.
  4. Your questions. If you don’t come into this meeting with some burning questions something is wrong. If you are at the meeting you will be affected by this…if you don’t ask questions I can only assume you aren’t doing your homework.
  5. Your listening ears. I try to focus on the quiet folks in my Pre-Kickoffs because they are typically being underserved. I always ask participants to remember that multi stakeholder projects require everyone’s participation to be successful and that means listening to others input in addition to providing your own. Projects too often serve the squeaky wheel.
  6. Your own voice. On the other side of the folks who can’t say enough are those who aren’t saying anything. When you are contemplating doing something,new asking questions is a natural part of the process. Verbal participation is a must.
  7. Someone who actually does the work. Pre kickoff meetings and planning meetings tend to be dominated by managers who are often not quite as up to speed on how things actually work as those in the trenches.
  8. One person instead of two. Every time you add a person to a meeting it becomes less productive. Nobody knows why but it just happens. So keep it at a minimum. I know I just said to bring more people in number seven, but really less is more so choose wisely.
  9. Food and beverage. I always get a laugh out of this because of my size, but I hate breaking for lunch during a day long session. It destroys the whole flow and many times the best bits of the meeting happen over a sandwich tray in the meeting room.
  10. An open mind. The whole point of a Pre Kickoff is to get a level set across all parties and kick the tires on the way you are thinking about potential solutions. Nothing kills this faster than someone whiteboarding the solution end to end in the first 30 minutes of the day.

In the end Pre Kickoffs are about sharing perspective, finding the gray spaces and ensuring you understand the complete problem statement. Sure that includes talking about solutions, but don’t try to “get ahead” by getting a jumpstart on the solution or you may find you’ve missed the value of the Pre Kick Off completely.

 At the end of the day a successful Pre-Kickoff may leave you with more questions than answers but that is a good thing. One of the major goals of the session should be to leave knowing you have uncovered all of the questions and identified the gray spaces so that you can plan your kickoff and project to address them.

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.