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Consulting: Achieving Outstanding Results


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Teaching consultantsDeliberate practice is the secret sauce to outstanding results according to the book Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. Here is how Colvin defines deliberate practice:

“…

  • It’s designed specifically to improve performance
  • It can be repeated a lot
  • Feedback on results is continuously available
  • It’s highly demanding mentally
  • It isn’t much fun

…”

This simple yet demanding pattern can be successfully applied to consulting. Here is how.

Improve performance

As a consultant you are constantly measured for performance, mainly for two key metrics: customer satisfaction and revenue. To achieve outstanding results you should focus improving performance for these two metrics. Consider the following.

To improve customer satisfaction:

  • Figure out who the key stakeholders are. You are evaluated for satisfaction directly by those folks. Understand what they value the most and design your execution around their values.
  • Figure out who the real customer is. Your service end result is probably not targeted to key stakeholders but to end users. Understand what they value, although they won’t directly evaluate you on satisfaction but they have a voice with the key stakeholders and they may have significantly influence.
  • Nail key scenarios for these two audiences and give it the highest priorities.

To improve revenue:

  • Reduce you bench time. Manage your backlog and the pipeline – make sure you always have something in the pipe, otherwise work with your sales and marketing to make sure you have gigs lined up for you. This especially helpful if you are in hourly rate gigs.
  • Move to fixed fee. Fixed fee gigs are the riskiest but most rewarding. Focus on specific niches and become an expert, or better off create your own niche and be the first one in it. Make sure the niche is about customer’s pains/pleasures otherwise no one would buy your services.

Repeatability and feedback loop

Here is the summary of the recommendations from the previous paragraph:

  • Figure out who the key stakeholders are.
  • Figure out who’s the real customer.
  • Reduce you bench time.
  • Move to fixed fee.

The first two should be repeated in the beginning of each gig. Use it as a checkpoint. If you have not identified key folks in the beginning then you won’t know how to achieve results, let alone outstanding results. The other two are great during execution and between the gigs. Test yourself repeatedly for shortening your bench time and how many fixed fee gigs your delivered vs. hourly rate ones. It’s easy to repeat and measure. It’s way harder to implement though. That’s why it’s mentally demanding.

Demanding mentally, no fun

So you are consultant and you are called onsite to solve customer’s problem – make something broken work or make it work better. Effectively you are Talent Is Overratedin charge of improving customer’s performance. But to make it so you must repeatedly gauge your own performance. So you need to have controls to monitor and measure both. The question is How? How to do it the way so it’s simple, less time consuming, effective, and not mentally demanding? There is no simple straightforward answer which only proves this whole thing is mentally demanding, but here are few resources that can help. And if you deliberately practice improving each and everyone of them, or at least those that hurt your performance the most, chances you will get results that will turn your customers into raving fans. It’s no fun but it’s rewarding and it works.

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image by SaudaminiN

8 November 2011

5 Comments »

  • J.D. Meier said:

    Very nice write up.

    I always like the idea of fixed-fee, but then I found so many processes, models, and established practices are optimized for “value per hour.” It helps folks do competitive analysis, because they compare hourly rates. I also find that folks tend to have a hard time articulating the end in mind, and it is incredibly difficult to articulate and spec requirements in a way, where what you ask for, is what you get. And to make it worse, many folks simply do not really know what they want, until they see it … and it’s an unfolding process. From that standpoint, the value-play is incredibly tough. But to up-level it, that’s why I think you can distinguish scenarios, and identify some plays are good for value-based, others are better for time and material.

  • alik levin (author) said:

    J.D.,
    Thank you.

    Can’t agree more with your comment – witnessed it first hand too many times. Probably short burst gigs are easier for fixed fee and larger ones are more suitable for hourly rates.

  • Bryan Thompson said:

    Alik, I’ve heard about this book (like Switch, it has been in my ‘to read’ pile for a while). I’m going to have to check this one out as well. In the end, I guess it all comes back to producing the best possible content and work you can do and trusting yourself in the process.

  • alik levin (author) said:

    Bryan,
    This book has an interesting angle on what talent is and how to make the most out of it even when seemingly one doesn’t have it.

  • Practice This » Blog Archive » 9 Traits Of Players At Work For Consultants said:

    [...] Consulting: Achieving Outstanding Results [...]

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