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Consultant’s Goals, Risks, and Constraints – Part III

Consultant's RisksConsulting is a risky work. Not in a sense of immediate life threat but if you look at it broadly there are plenty risks that may have serious negative impact on consultant’s life. Burn out, unsatisfying job, becoming irrelevant to name a few.

Think of risks or threats as of negative event that might happen.

In Part I I discussed consultant’s goals and how different risks or threats can prevent the consultant from reaching the goals. In Part II I outlined the constraints that limit the consultant in reaching his goals. Here I list risks and mitigation approaches.

Knowledge lag

The Fifth Discipline - The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization Technology innovation has fast pace. If you cannot keep up with the pace, your technical skills become obsolete. If your skills obsolete, no one will hire you. The key question here is how to keep up with pace? How to invest just enough time to keep up with the pace without hurting billable time and work life balance? Here are few approaches that worked for me:

  • Pick a niche. This was critical for me. I intentionally picked very few niches and focused only on them. The niches I picked we critical to every customers – it was by design to avoid pigeon hole trap. I picked data security and system performance and invested in it relentlessly.
  • Learn timeless principles. How to invest? How to build strong foundation and then just add small deltas on top of it? The secret sauce for me was first learning the principles of each discipline. Principles are timeless regardless of technology. For each discipline you must first figure out key things for the discipline. Consider adopting Marie Forleo’s life lesson #1 – Everything is figure-outable.
  • Learn on the go. Learn on the go means – bill the customer for your learning. Say what? Yes, exactly that. There will be plenty gigs that you will be asked to assist but you will know for sure it is the first time you hit such situation so you will need to figure it out on the go. Be transparent with the customer to mitigate another risk of losing trust in case of less than satisfactory outcomes. In such situations my message always was “I have never hit that issue before, but I trust that applying proven principles that served me well so far we can figure it out together. I will be totally fine if you turn me down and seek another professional. I can even recommend you a few.”
  • Interoperate. What the hell are you talking about? I could not find a better title to it but here is the deal. Reach out to other disciplines and see how yours positioned there. The more you learn others view on your stuff the more you become customer sensitive and that counts a lot. Suddenly you can speak your stuff in their language – that counts ton. You become relevant not only for your niche but also a go-to guy for other niches you are reaching out.

Burn out

Flawless Consulting - A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used Your product is time (this is most common product for consultants – billable time). Running after time is never ending story. Consider a successful salesman who may slack for the whole month and then hit his numbers by selling a huge gig in one day. This won’t fly for consultant. If you wasted your time for something you cannot bill a customer, it will never come back. It forces consultant to constantly chase utilization. The approaches that worked for me to stay away from burning out and hitting my numbers while maintaining 40 hour workweek:

  • Plan. By planning I mean figuring out the annual hours to be delivered to hit the target utilization and breaking it down to the daily quotas.
  • Execute. Once the plan is in place – execute against it, just stick to it – drop everything what’s not in, but prioritize wisely. Review the plan periodically to make sure the plan is not too aggressive or too lazy. Adjust as appropriate.
  • Prioritize. Prioritization is the secret sauce behind getting results and keeping up with 40 hour workweek. The rules are simple – what’s in the plan gets priority, what’s not – doesn’t. The only exception from the rule is urgent events and that’s the tricky part – you define what’s urgent for you – but remember, if you do more urgent work vs. planned work then the system is broken and you are destined for burn out.

Consider the following resources that outline how to plan, execute, and prioritize:

Failure to grow your network

Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty - The Only Networking Book You'll Ever Need Building and growing your network is vital for consultant. This is how the consultant scales when solving customers problems. Networks are everywhere – build yours. Here is a quick example how building your network can help you with your customer – Case Study: Fast Mobilization and Experts Network. Network is community of like-minded, either focused on the discipline or just network of trusted people you can rely on. Your network helps not only to scale when solving customers problems but it also helps to scale marketing and selling your services. To build my network I used two simple practices – make the move and reach out proactively to people. Once the connection established maintain the connection, keep it warm so when you in real need you can naturally reach out and ask for help. It also invites the other side to ask for help more comfortably which only strengthens the connection.

Sitting on the bench

Getting Results the Agile Way - A Personal Results System for Work and Life It is the worst case for the consultant from business perspective. If nothing worked and the backlog is empty or the next gig starts in few days – use the time to mitigate the knowledge lag risk, learn and practice new skills. But that’s the worst case. The better case would be proactively managing your pipeline [forecast for possible gigs] and the backlog of current gigs that you need to chip away. These are two main constraints that can easily become a threat and keep you on the bench. To mitigate this risk you proactively maximize those constraints, the pipeline and the backlog, as outlined in Part II.

Missing utilization goal

First Things First The reason for missing utilization could be many things. The key here is having simple daily, weekly, and monthly checks for staying on track. This risk is closely related to burn out risk. If you are unable to control your daily execution and test against success daily you will either miss the utilization goal or will try to catch up later resulting in burn out and fatigue. Same practices apply here:

Loss of trust

The Consultant's Calling - Bringing Who You Are to What You Do, New and Revised That’s the biggest risk as far as I can imagine. All others are temporary and easily recoverable if materialized. This one is devastating that potentially can demolish everything you have built so far. Consider the following reasons that can risk the trust you have established with your customers. It is a good checklist for reducing the risk:

  • The contracting is unclear.
  • You work your own agenda.
  • The fit is poor.
  • The client has too much work and too little money.
  • The project becomes less important to the client.
  • You accept the work you would  not ordinarily do.
  • You after the money.
  • You catch the client’s “disease”.
  • You hold naïve positive assumptions.
  • You pretend.

Read more on how to prevent loss of trust here – This Is How Consultant Loses Trust.

Project failure

Hollywood Secrets of Project Management Success Here is another checklist you want to have handy. This one might resonate with the previous one. The difference that in this case you have less control. It does not mean you should not be aware of the early symptoms for illness outbreak. This is the checklist:

  • Doesn’t meet expectations.
  • Lacks change management processes.
  • Lacks project sponsorship.
  • Insufficient resources or budget are available.
  • Team doesn’t report or escalate critical problems quickly.
  • No risk planning.
  • Schedule delays and missed commitments are rampant.
  • Project is over-budget with no end in sight.
  • Low morale is a problem.
  • Uncontrolled scope creep abounds.
  • Project direction and end-game aren’t clear.
  • Showstoppers haven’t been identified.

Read more about how to mitigate project failure here – Is Your Project Going To Fail?

Unsatisfying job

First, Break All the Rules - What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently So you are kicking ass and booked solid, delivering on customers and your manager expectations. You hit your numbers, no sweat, and you work 40 hours a week. But something is off. Something is bothering you. You feel you are not having fun anymore and the job is just not satisfying anymore. What is it? What’s wrong? Here are few quick frames that helped me to assess my situation in downtimes and take quick corrective actions:

  • Physically energized.
  • Emotionally connected.
  • Mentally focused.
  • Spiritually aligned.

To learn more read 4 Dimensions Of Personal Power.

Another one is specific to a job. Here are several frames I have successfully used for several years:

Job frame #1:

  • What problems are you working on?
  • Who are you working with?
  • What impact are you making?

Job frame #2:

  • Title
  • Learn from
  • Daily to-do
  • Next gig
  • Deliverables
  • Lifestyle

Job frame #3:

  • What do I get?
  • What do I give?
  • Do I belong here?
  • How can we all grow?

To learn more:

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Posted in: Consulting

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This blog is dedicated to share simple practices I that get me results.

4 Comments on "Consultant’s Goals, Risks, and Constraints – Part III"

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  1. J.D. Meier says:

    Very good frame for sharing some of the key threats, risks, and issues to the consulting way of life.

    The knowledge lag is a very real issue. Just like some actors pick their portfolio wisely, I think the same is true for effective consultants. They take on the projects that grow them, and expand their portable skills.

    I hope to see a shift, at least in high-end consulting, away from utilization driven to more solution selling or value-based.

  2. alik levin says:

    Thank you. Indeed i remember i was offered few big gigs with ton of billable hours somehow related to my skills. I could potentially take those and learn new things and also keep off the bench. I turned them down, can you imagine that? I realized that the skills i would learn won’t probably be needed any more beyond this gig. That seemed like it is not the best time investment I could possible make.

  3. Lew Sauder says:

    Excellent list Alik. I would agree that Loss of Trust is the biggest risk because it it the foundation for all of the others. Another major risk for a consultant is Lack of Communication. If the consultant is not communicating effectively and setting expectations well for the client, it will affect their trust and, potentially, cause Project Failure.
    Lew Sauder, Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting.

  4. alik levin says:

    Thank you. Agreed on lack of communications as a source of many failures – materialized risks/threats. I would not categorize it as a risk rather as … hmm.. if it was security i would call it vulnerability 😉
    Risk or a threat is a potential negative event as a result of vulnerability.
    So probably good communications is a countermeasure to reduce some of the risks listed above.

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