Finding Consulting Project Nirvana

Tying back to my post this past Friday on recruiting, I wanted to take a brief moment to share what-I-feel is a blunt and honest system for benchmarking your existing role within the context of what a “great role” is in consulting.  I have borrowed part of this system from a couple colleagues and expanded on various areas to make it fit within the context of what I have found to be true in my journeys (I call it the “satisfaction quotient” – very original, I know).  The premise is simple – you will never find the “perfect project”.  The quicker you accept that, the quicker you can start to see the silver lining across various areas that matter to you.  And your happiness and willingness to get up and jump on that plane Monday morning is the ultimate sanity savior when all else fails and you feel like you are running in circles.

Simply put, take a look at the following:
  • Client – The client you are working for: If you are working for a mom and pop shop that has a risk of being acquired at any moment, what would that mean for the body of work you’ve completed?  Similarly, are you working on a huge project at a massive company where your efforts may get lost in the mix?  Either way, I always like to look at the client I’m working for and the context of where they are at in their corporate history.  If their organizational context or place in history helps tell a better story – I consider that a huge win (e.g. if I am helping with a people/process/technology transformation for a client that is at a major crossroads and is about to take a huge step forward in the marketplace).
  • Industry – The industry you are working in: If you enjoy working in the health sector and are stuck on a public utilities project, is that something that is going to be beneficial for you in the long run?  Maybe, maybe not.  Perhaps your company has skills aligned by technology verticals in which case you are more or less fixed in delivering to one specific industry.  Does that industry interest you?  Does it have staying power?  Just remember that all the work you are completing will eventually fall on your resume and the more you can develop competency in a given space, the more marketable and in-demand your services will be.  So I hope you like it!
  • Scope – The scope of the project you are working on: If your project only touches a small part of the business or is a low-cost pilot or trial, is there a chance that your efforts are ultimately going to be thrown away?  Alternatively, if you think your project is huge in scope and may never really prove out the original ROI per the business case, will that perceived failure follow you for a period of time in your career?  Again, it all comes back to the story you are able to tell.  It’s always refreshing to step back after a project and say you were comfortable or proud of the accomplishments you made given the scope of the project (it never hurts to brag a bit).  I also consider the project context as part of scope (i.e. whether you’re working 40 or 100 hours a week).  I firmly believe that most people who are working long hours do so mainly because the sales team overscoped/understaffed a project rendering it nearly impossible to deliver given the known human capital constraints – hence why people work long hours/weekends to try and close that gap even though it’s probably not their fault.
  • Role – The role you have on the project: As with the scope of the project, your direct role, responsibility, and contributions to the project are key in determining whether you feel like a project is a good fit.  If you have recently been promoted and are ready for the next step – would it be best to take a PMO role where you don’t have anyone reporting to you?  This is just one more area where you are continuing to develop your story and expand your resume.  A lot of interviewers I have heard lately are increasingly asking, rather than what projects you’ve worked on, is what YOU SPECIFICALLY have done on those projects.  Make sure you are able to tell a good story based upon your position and responsibilities!
  • People – The people you are working with: If you are generally happy with the people you are working with, it can nearly drown out the rest of the categories mentioned.  This is perhaps the single most important area that many people fail to acknowledge (i.e. How many people have you heard complain about “hating their boss”, “hating their client”, or worse?).  It is extremely important for a self-worth and satisfaction standpoint to legitimately enjoy the people you work with.  I’m not saying you should be looking strictly for people you’d want to have a beer with, but these are the people you will ultimately spend more time with than your loved ones.  You may as well at least enjoy their presence.

Your satisfaction quotient is equal to the number of categories above where you say “I’m happy with this” relative to the overall set of areas (5 – Client, Industry, Scope, Role, People).  If you are batting more than 3 for 5 in the categories above, you are approaching consulting nirvana.  If, for some strange reason, you have stumbled into something like 5 out of 5 – you should keep your mouth shut and ride that wave as long as you can.  It really does not get any better than that.  And, if you are stuck with 2 or less – it might be time to navigate yourself on to something new.

Til Next Time,


The Case Against: Industry Best Practices

I am toying with the idea of running a new series (hopefully weekly) titled “The Case Against” and then picking a generally agreed-upon topic to pick apart to challenge conventional wisdom.  Mostly because I am pedantic by nature and like to overanalyze any situation put before me.  Also because I think it’s time for some fresh thoughts on many of the areas in business that we have long held to be a certain way “because that’s they way it’s always been”.  In my humble (and semi-professional) opinion, “because that’s the way it’s always been” is usually awful justification for just about anything in life and generally causes us to choose cop-out answers to complex problems in the interest of time or energy required to develop original thought/content.  To start this series, I have chosen to take a stab at industry best practices.

Since the beginning of time, it seems, firms have been pushing “industry best practices” as a means for companies to succeed.  And, on the surface, it makes perfect sense.  If you want to advance your team or organization, take a look at what the big names in the industry are doing.  If they’re pursuing people management or business intelligence as a means to drive productivity – you should do the same.  Right?  Well, not quite.

I have a problem with leaning on said “best practices” in the industry for a couple reasons in particular:
  • The judge of “best” is often someone who doesn’t really have a say or someone who has selfish reasons for determining “best”: the consultancy that helped company XYZ develop a particular process/technology will look to their own solution as the “best practice” so they can go implement that type of project elsewhere.
  • In other cases, the judges of “best” are merely analysts who are throwing darts at a dart board: typically, “researchers” at Gartner/Forrester are too far removed from industry to really understand why something may indeed offer massive benefit or ROI for a company.
  • Best practices have a shelf life: unfortunately, in modern day Corporate America, truly innovative and next generation solutions are yesterday’s news as soon as they are implemented.  Consider if you were an airline that was looking for a revolutionary way to offer in-flight entertainment – does it really make sense to pursue overhead TV screens when those have been deployed at competitor’s airlines for a few years?  Or would capital better be invested in determining what your users think is even better, such as TV’s in the headrests…
  • Best practices are usually only the best for a specific company in their own organizational context: if one company really needed a robust business intelligence reporting solution for their field workforce because they have such geographically diverse delivery models, would it really be smart for a small local or regional company to chase the same level of reporting if they are more standardized in their delivery model?  Of course not!
  • Most companies don’t need to be “best in class” at everything: one of the smartest operations guys I ever met said that, frankly, he didn’t know that his company needed to be the “Four Seasons”.  Perhaps they were currently operating at a “Best Western” level and just needed to get to “Holiday Inn Express”.  I thought it was a very sharp and intuitive way to look at it and firmly believe he is right.  While it sounds great to chase the leader in the clubhouse, a lot of times it’s smarter to employ investments that make the most sense for your company given your context (i.e. play your own game).

I swear I’m not just trying to be a professional services contrarian or fly in the face of conventional wisdom for publicity purposes (lord knows if I was truly anti-best practices, I’d really struggle to find a job at most major consultancies or companies in Corporate America for that matter).  I just think it’s about time we realized that a lot of these best practices are only best practices because they were better than the other options (which, in many cases, was doing nothing).  Comcast moved to 2-hour appointment windows because they had defined that as a something that would increase customer satisfaction.  And, in the absence of doing anything differently with appointment windows, the rest of the cable companies immediately looked to that as the “best practice” for scheduling/appointment windows.  Does that make it right?  You be the judge.

Til Next Time,


Conference Calls

Was sent a link the other day to a pretty funny take on what conference calls look like personified in the flesh.  I know we all can appreciate most (if not all) of the quirks they detail in this skit.  Hope you enjoy it!

Til Next Time,



Something that has long frustrated me about the professional services industry in particular is the thought that recruiting can be done in a silo, separate from delivery teams.  Sure, it is nice to have headcount dedicated to this activity as it can be incredibly tedious and time-consuming, and really doesn’t fit into most typical delivery models as far as bringing in the front-line teams to assist with much of the burden of recruiting.

It is really frustrating, though, to talk to recruiters who have a bulleted list of skills that are tied to a given role, position, or opportunity.  It is not a knock against the recruiter.  I know that they will only have surface level information at best.  But since their KPI’s are generally tied to ensuring those positions are filled (or a given budget/target is met for positions), they are likely going to severely embellish the opportunity and oversell the opening to the point where it seems like you’d be a fool not to jump on board with it.  And that is a horrible waste of everyone’s time.

It is highly important to take everything that is said in the recruiting process with a bit of caution, and be sure to discuss roles and responsibilities for the position with people who are well-versed in the needs (i.e. the front-line delivery teams that are working on that project or similar ones).  I have seen too many people jump ship from a great place just to find out that what they were sold for another position or company was way off base from what the expectations they had were.  One of the people I trust most in the industry said it best when she said “After all these years, I can confirm the grass isn’t greener on the other side; it’s brown everywhere”.  Now, before you indict this person and claim it’s blasphemy that green grass does exist, consider the fact that what they have effectively said is that there are pros and cons to every situation.  If you leave one company for more money, sure you may get a great pay bump – but maybe you’ll be pigeon-holing yourself into a technology/project phase that you loathe (ever had a “Testing Manager” role that made you swear you never wanted to execute another test case in your life?).  Or, perhaps you take the job at the sleek and sexy new startup with the local delivery model where you don’t have to travel.  I’ve seen a lot of people who do this get really frustrated with their roles on projects becoming merely staff aug for large in-town clients where they feel as though they get stale or lose their focus on continued advancement of skills and knowledge.

Regardless, I think there are tons of opportunities to improve the recruiting process.  And I think it all starts with putting the focus on the delivery teams.  Nothing is more frustrating than talking to a recruiter who claims to have insight into “what it’s like” when you’re staffed on a “typical project”.  No offense, but they 1) aren’t delivering projects, and 2) there is no such thing as a “typical project”.  So please – in the absence of more robust recruiting – please be cautious about who you talk to when shopping for roles, projects, or companies.  Do your own homework and talk to the right people.  Only then will you start to get a good feel for whether you will enjoy yourself as you try to acclimate to the new spot.

Til Next Time,


Incentives & Professional Athletic Contracts

I’m reading a great book right now titled The Why Axis, which explores the concepts of causality versus correlation, the role of nurture in modern society, and generally how incentives can (and should) be used or revisited to garner the maximum effect.  Anyway, it has started making me look at things like incentives in a different way.  I think the lessons, theories, and conversations they expose are extremely useful for us to consider even in our own lives on the micro level.

Truth be told, I have always been extremely fascinated by incentive structures (both positive and negative incentives).  I think the ability to drive performance, productivity, and throughput through variable means  (financial or otherwise) is something that is extremely fascinating and something that many industries are honestly doing a really poor job with currently.  Take my own contract for instance – I largely do not have any major incentives tied to my performance so there is not a major fire beneath me to go wildly above and beyond the call of duty.  The only “carrot” so to speak is the opportunity to advance my career/position quicker (but, at many companies, the body of work completed or performance against target is far from a guarantee of quicker advancement).  Otherwise, the variable compensation tied to my role is largely in line with most professional services firms and won’t sway my overall income more than 5-10% in a given year.  I have long held, though, that the professional services industry has a tremendous opportunity to model itself more closely to the contracts of professional athletes from an incentives and compensation package structure perspective.  Think about it – how great would that be?

If my contract were more similar to a professional athlete, it would open up so many doors.  Namely, I would be able to:

  • Participate in a “corporate combine” which would allow me to display my skills and work to prospective suitors
  • Attend “draft day” events which would allow for “teams” (i.e. companies) and “prospects” (i.e. college graduates, those who are in-between contracts, etc) to mingle and celebrate leading up to the “draft” where teams fill out roster spots for open needs
  • Negotiate a guaranteed salary figure that I know I would receive independent of performance (except for gross negligence of conducting myself in a manner expected by my company/contract – similar to when athletes can nullify contracts by getting into motorcycle accidents which prevent them from being in the lineup)
  • Have a larger variable component of my salary that is provided as an incentive for hitting certain performance targets or kickers listed in my contract (i.e. spot bonuses or incentives when I exceed a given target, metric, or goal)
  • Select an agent that would help negotiate my contracts and define performance incentives that drive my own productivity (presuming they are proper motivation for me – money or otherwise)
  • Enter contract years (i.e. the years where my contract is set to expire) with a renewed passion because I know my next contract is on the line
  • Propose or take part in trades or package deals in order to align myself and my performance with colleagues/teams/companies I work well with (or to simply navigate myself to a different part of my company or another company altogether)
  • Implement a “No Trade” clause which would allow me to have a right of refusal on my company trading me to another location/company that was not preferable
  • Obtain endorsements or sponsors (third party) that would back myself, my team, or my company (i.e. Lenovo chooses to pick up my team for our next three-year deal and provide us with latest laptops in exchange for our brand ambassadorship)
  • Allow for companies to participate in a waiver process where “dropped” resources could be claimed off the wire and given short term deals
I will let you know if The Why Axis leaves me with any groundbreaking discoveries in the Incentives space.  I thought it appropriate to share one of my own compensation/incentive schemes with you in the short term though as food for thought.  What’s holding us back from modeling salaries and contracts in Corporate America more like athletes’?  I do believe that it is way too risky for most people, but there are always those players that take a substantially less amount of money to ensure that they are guaranteed and locked up for a long time.  I really think it is something that could work and start to create a renewed sense of competition for the modern age.
Til Next Time,

The History of Hashtags

Was pointed to this link earlier today to a story/infographic on the history of hashtags courtesy of Offerpop.  For those of you who know me, you know I love two things at a minimum:

  1. Infographics
  2. Hashtags

Thought I’d pass it along.


Til Next Time,


Multi-Vendor Environments

As a follow up to Thursday’s post on collaboration with other firms in a multi-vendor environment, I felt compelled to follow up with a piece on working in a multi-vendor environment.  I realize my words may have come across a bit rash, and it may seem like I loathe the concept of working in these sorts of constructs.

Quite the opposite actually.  I have been able to have some great success working in these confines and believe that organizations actually see a ton of benefit when these sorts of sandboxes are created.

Let me share just a few of the benefits of working in a multi-vendor environment:

  • Multi-vendor environments force everyone to be on top of their game all of the time, lest they want to see themselves cut out for better resources or firms via what-I-like-to-call Corporate Natural Selection
  • I firmly believe that the level of efficiency, productivity, and quality of work increases exponentially when there are people with different paychecks fact-checking and following up on each other’s work
  • Having diversity of thought when approaching a program of initiatives or area of the business allows clients to use their skills more in an advisory manner where they get to pick and choose the best ideas from multiple sources (and so that it’s not just one firm’s stock templates/processes that are force fed down said client’s throat – because we all know how well that tends to go… #Sarcasm)
  • More firms = more people to network with, and I think everyone should have at least a part of their imagination reserved for “what happens” if and when they need to move on to a different project, firm, or company to progress their career
  • Selfishly for the organization, the presence of more vendors usually allows supply chain teams to drive down rates so that the professional services providers have to take lower margins in order to sign the work, resulting in much lower cost of delivery for projects

Again, I cannot express enough how excited I am when I get to work in multi-vendor environments.  Even when the building’s on fire and everyone is racing to cover their butts, it provides if nothing else great enjoyment because everyone has to be on their toes.  Thursday’s post was really about my loathe for rework, and the massive waste of time that will inevitably fall upon us for sitting in “current state definition” meetings (meetings on meetings to talk about meetings – yay!).

Til Next Time,


Reinventing the Wheel

I hate reinventing the wheel.  Rework.  Whatever you want to call it.  Anyways, the thought came to me today to post this because we have recently been informed that yet another consultancy will be coming in to our neck of the woods within the organization to do some “transformation work”.  While the vendor will remain nameless, I will say that I have very closely followed their track record in this type of work, within this industry, in similar environments, for quite some time now.  It is far from stellar.

Regardless, someone probably slept with someone or has a dirty picture lying around (just kidding – or am I?), so we’re forced to work with them.  So we will probably be called upon to completely reinvent all traditional forms of project governance, communications management, and program reporting.  Sounds like fun, eh?  Except for one thing – we already have all of those things.  So why reinvent the wheel?

Truth be told…  I’m not attempting to claim that our operations in the aforementioned areas are an extremely well-oiled machine.  We probably stand to improve some of our efficiency and throughput in those areas.  But we do the best with what we have right now on a highly-constrained budget (time, energy, headcount, etc).  I just cannot see for the life of me what they-who-shall-remained-namelss will bring to the table that will make any of our existing horsepower (i.e. our relatively small, close-knit team) gain any huge deal of goodness out of their “investigation” (read: 9 month “current state assessment” that will cost about $1M whether or not they choose to bill it to us – sometimes they have been known to offer “free work” on the expectation that they will get reciprocal projects for being so good at their “phase zero”).

So what am I going to do about it you ask?

Simple.  I call it the consulting olympics.  I fully intend to put this team through their paces.  Because, you know what?  They are not an ounce smarter than my team and me, and likely don’t have any deeper subject matter expertise than we do.  I am confident in that and I am happy to admit that I know all of their tricks (and may have even seen them in action before).  I know that the intent is for these guys and girls to come in and shed some crazy light on all of the areas we’ve been underperforming because they sold someone’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss that they would be able to “help the team realize significant cost savings through more expeditious delivery of the existing programs as well as gain efficiencies in areas previously uncharted” and some blah-blah-blah.  However…  Everything they will come at us with is either A) already available in our existing area, B) something we have already determined doesn’t gain us any efficiency/increased throughput, or C) is something wildly irrational/pie in the sky that will never work based upon our corporate culture and existing landscape/horsepower.  Far too often in Corporate America, I think people let the consultants come in (side note: I am a consultant and realize I am shooting my own foot) and tell everyone how things “should be” without real visibility into the weeds of what is really happening within an organization.  Sure – if you give me a paintball gun and a corporate office, I’m sure I can fire some ink on the walls too.  But it’s time that we started defending the homestead a bit more.  The consultants are not always smarter.

Listen, I’m really not trying to be apathetic, pessimistic, or a poor team player.  I really intend to sit in on their sessions (albeit begrudgingly) and inform them of how we are operating now.  Maybe, in the end, they will indeed point out one or two things that are usable and somewhat logical.  Otherwise, though, they are threatening myself, my team, and our whole corner of the organization.  And I fully intend to fight to defend that turf, even though my client’s name isn’t directly on my paycheck (i.e. I was once the new guy from the outside on this block too).  Also, in case you haven’t seen it, please of watch Office Space sometime.  As funny a movie as it is, it is also a strikingly true satire on day-to-day life in Corporate America.  Don’t let the “Bobs” ruin your shop.

Let the games begin!

Til Next Time,


2014 Planning

So – approaching a topic I mentioned previously, I wanted to make a couple quick observations about 2014 planning.  Everywhere in Corporate America, productivity takes a dip over the holidays (starting with Thanksgiving, culminating at New Year’s).  There’s no avoiding that.  What is interesting is how quickly people try to get back from 0-60 MPH right after 1/1.  Perhaps this is why the volume of my posts has subsided in the last couple weeks.  I’m totally fine with everyone having the “uh oh” moment realizing how much was supposed to kick off 1/1, but I still felt compelled to document some of my observations in the interim:

  • I think as people wrap up a year – there should be an extended blackout on activities such that nothing kicks off in earnest until 1/15
  • I realize this may be delaying the inevitable (turning the third week in January into the firestorm that is usually reserved for the first/second), but strongly feel that overloading everyone in the first full week after the holidays is useless because everyone is still mentally in vacation mode
  • Having to rework any of the items you half-mindedly try to tackle over the holidays into the first week of the new year is a huge risk and I see it happen far too often; and, you know how much I dislike rework 🙂
  • For a lot of people, “sorting through mail” is a huge chore; that’s not to say that people shouldn’t be better at it – but we really need to be aware of the fact that it will take many people at least one full week to get back to even 80% up to speed on activities (so please, stop the “Did you see my note?” discussions – nobody likes those pests… I really feel like we all have an opportunity to be smarter about how you approach people in this limbo period)
  • As far as financial activities go, professional services firm have an all out blitz on cash collection approaching 12/31, so we need to be mindful of overflow cash collection that happens in January and not immediately start grilling people for January collections on 2014 work; surely people in finance can be smarter about setting realistic expectations and navigating the year end better (even though I wholly agree that the burden needs to be shared by front-line and their role needs to be clearly communicated so they can share that insight with the buyers)
  • It all comes back to project planning; I don’t want to say that we should expect no work to get done between Thanksgiving and 1/15 (that’s just not realistic) – but sequencing activities so that some of the more tactical items can be accomplished in this time frame would be of best benefit (nobody wants to have the mega strategy session of the century with half of the leaders/stakeholders on Christmas Eve – as “great” of an idea as it sounds to “get it knocked out before kicking off the new year”)

I could go on all day, but wanted to share some of these thoughts in the short term since we’re all undoubtedly stuck in the rat race to get 2014 activities underway ASAP.

Til Next Time,


Men’s Suits 101


I know I have mentioned it before (and will likely mention it again until your ears are numb), but the clothes you wear are highly important.  Whether you realize it or not (or are reluctant to admit it), people will judge you based upon your appearance, and what you wear says a lot about your outward appearance (i.e. well-dressed people have greater command over a room of people before they even say a word).  It’s a fact of life in Corporate America.  No escaping it.  Whether or not you choose to care about it is obviously your prerogative – but I wanted to pass along a great article posted yesterday on Buzzfeed that references tips and rules for wearing men’s suits.  A lot of these are great things to keep in mind while shopping or dressing and won’t cost you any extra money.

P.S. Is Buzzfeed slowly making its case to be the preeminent work productivity killer?  I wonder how many collective hours a day of “work time” across America alone are lost to reading through the site.  Don’t tell me your Facebook feeds aren’t full of these lists on a daily basis.  You know, when you check Facebook after working hours of course 🙂

Til Next Time,