Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Consulting assignment life cycle 6: day 1 of the assignment

Posted in consulting, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on April 16, 2012

This is my sixth installment on consulting and the consulting assignment life cycle (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 225-9 for parts 1-5.) So far I have discussed consulting per se and the decision to do this as a career step, and finding clients and building a consulting practice. I turn with this installment to consider the consulting assignment per se in more detail. And I write this as a direct continuation of Part 3: consulting clients and consulting assignments of this series.

I assume here that you know the types and scope of the consulting assignments that you would take on. I also assume that you and your employer have reached agreement as to the details of this assignment and for what you are to do, the time frame you would do this work in and so on (see the discussion of consulting agreements in Part 3.) This posting turns to the issues of fulfilling a consulting agreement, and I begin with your first day on this job.

• Meet at least briefly with the manager you will be reporting to, to get oriented and to make sure that your work with them is on their agenda as now in progress.
• If you are only going to be working with them for a short and tightly focused single objective assignment, this may simply mean their showing you where you will be working and introducing you to a few colleagues you will be working with or near. For a more extensive assignment, this may be much more involved with discussion of first tasks to be worked on and other issues too.
• Specifically find out if your manager for this assignment has to make any changes as to how you would start your work there. One that comes immediately to mind for me would be a “let’s have you start out working on B instead of A. Bob is out sick (or busy on another task or otherwise unavailable now) and you need to work with him on A at least to get started on it.”
• I am not writing about fundamental changes in the assignment here, but rather the details issues that go into working on and completing the assignment agreed to. And changes at this level are common as you work as a consultant in the context of an already busy staff and work flow.
• And very important – your goal in how you start an assignment should always be to get off to a solid, productive start and one that does not call on more than a minimal hands-on participation from your manager or from others you would be working with. Consultants are hired at least in part because they can get up to speed with a minimal learning and orientation curve.

You may not meet with all of the stakeholders you will be working with and supporting through your efforts on this first day, but I always recommend reaching out to the people you interviewed with as key stakeholders, and any others who have been identified for you as important for what you are to do – and if not right away at least quickly as the assignment begins.

• You may be reporting to one manager but you need to help meet the needs of all of these stakeholders while doing so.
• If you find yourself hearing the same things from all parties as to goals and priorities then consider yourself lucky and simply work ahead. If you hear points of disagreement between what some key stakeholder is saying and what your manager has said, go to your manager for this assignment so they will know that they have to work out the details with this stakeholder. Never take sides when sharing word of this type of disagreement – simply bring up this set of issues as a matter of asking for clarification on your part.
• This, I add is an important due diligence reason why it is important to meet with the stakeholders early as misunderstandings and differences in understanding can arise between the people you would work with on an assignment. The faster you can bring this type of problem to the attention of your manager and get it resolved, the better.
• Note: it is your manager’s responsibility to resolve any differences between their position on your assignment, its goals and its priorities, and the views expressed on these issues by other stakeholders. Never, ever get in the middle on this type of problem, if such a problem arises.

And of course reach out to meet with the people you will be working with and near, who you will be seeing daily as you go through this assignment. Get lunch with some of your new colleagues if possible and start becoming a member, even if a temporary one, of their work community. This is particularly important when you are beginning an assignment that will keep you working there with those people for a more extended period of time. You may be a consultant and formally an outsider, but become a member of the team for while you are there.

I am going to continue this discussion in my next series installment, looking into the issues of getting connected into your employer’s systems with online access, intranet access, email and anything else you need. In principle, resource access should be arranged and set up for you but I know from hands-on experience that consultants can start out facing access and resource gaps and real challenges here. There are best practices for quickly identifying and resolving this type of issue.

You can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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