What I learned as a Consultant

Consulting is hard

In my four years as a consultant I’ve worked 110 hour weeks, worked regularly past midnight, and missed more social occasions and holidays than I remember.  I feel consulting and the grueling hours is largely the reason one of my relationships ended, and why I haven’t been in a relationship in quite a while.  Even though I was luckier than most in that I wasn’t constantly hounded to produce more hours.  Make no mistake it’s a hard life.

Life on the road is fun only for a little while

Traveling week to week starts off as fun. You get to often see new places, and you get miles and points.  You get to eat out at fancy restaurants but you do so alone, and with the looming work all the time.  Rarely did I have opportunity to ‘see’  the sights on such trips.  And often trips were to Nashville, or Des Moines which some of these places have practically no night life on a Tuesday night.  I spent more time working in hotel rooms than sleeping.  I for the most part worked on projects solo, or with remote teams, and as such I rarely had companions to go out and have dinner with or have drinks with.  It is a pretty lonely existence taking a red eye flight Monday morning, working till 7pm in the office.  To then go out for an hour or two for dinner, then usually 3-5 hours of more work when you get back to your hotel.  Then rinse and repeat for the rest of the week.

Your home is often more of a liability in this lifestyle.  It’s nice for a while to not have to pay for meals during the week, but when you get home Thursday or Friday and you’re exhausted from working a 60 hour week, the last thing you want to do is go to the grocery store for your two or three days home until you have to do it again.   This list just gets longer and longer, the same goes for mowing your lawn, or fixing that leaky faucet, or getting an oil change.  Sure you can use all that extra consulting money to hire someone to take care of your house or stuff.  But then that takes even more time. In the end does that put you far ahead?  I’m not so sure.

There are a lot of mediocre to terrible consultants

I actually think that consulting can be wonderful for both the client and the consulting firm in certain situations.  There are many consulting firms which think they can take college grads put them through four to six weeks of training and drop ship them to client sites and they’ll be wonderful billing consultants.  I’ve seen it work well in a handful of cases, but more often I’ve seen this fail miserably.  More often than not I was consulting by cleaning up the mess left by other consultants from my own firm, or even by another firm.

The perception that consultants are the ‘best of the best’ rarely panned out that way in my view.  I know many consultants I would personally never hire or recommend.

There is always someone willing to work longer or harder than you

Especially in the larger consulting firms, the race to partner or the next role is real.  And even though you’ve sacrificed all the holidays and spent more time in hotel rooms than your actual home.  There is almost always someone who has done it and more, and forget your quaint 120% utilization they are pushing 200% utilization.  When it comes to reviews and promotions I have no idea how you compete with that.

‘Best Practices’ is a sales gimmick

More often than not what is ‘sold’ to the client is rarely what I’ve delivered to a client.  Not so say I didn’t meet client requirements, or didn’t finish projects.  But, often what is sold to client’s is my years of expertise, and knowledge of systems.  However, when it really comes down to it, project managers and client leadership or even client employees will steer a solution right off the rails into a train wreck.  Then you’re forced to come up with a solution which is far from ‘best practices’ and then devolves slowly into the uncharted, and often risky.  I have developed and worked on many more ‘less than ideal’ solutions than I worked on solutions I felt good about.

How your work is perceived is more important than the work itself

I’ll fully admit I’m bad with people.  And, this more than most things with consulting I utterly failed at.   I pride myself with coming up with solutions and building solutions.  However, more than a few times I’ve gotten into trouble for purely political and social reasons more so than the work.  I’ve delivered solutions I hated and thought were terrible, and even client employees may know this.  But if the client management thinks it’s wonderful than all is well with the world.  On the converse if you tell a client you’re falling into a ditch to never return, they will often perceive you as the problem, not the problem at hand.  I personally never learned to tell a client ‘no’ and not have it blow up in my face.

Having a great project manager can be wonderful

As much as project mangers (PM’s) are reviled by the workers doing actual work.  Having a good project manager can mean the difference between a failed project, and a wildly successful one with follow up work.  Clients and leadership and sales all seem to buy into these elusive unicorns called PM’s.  But, when it comes to execution and actually determining effectiveness of your specific PM it somehow falls into this ‘blind spot’  where suddenly billing hours seemingly is more important than the success of the project.  When it comes down to recognizing  your PM is really a horse with a fake unicorn horn and calling them out on this somehow almost never pans out.  A good project manager will juggle the competing task items, resources, and perceptions of everyone involved.  It is not an easy job and I personally would be a terrible PM, but I can recognize a good one.  And if you happen to be on a project with a great PM it can be glorious rainbows and unicorns.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 29th, 2016 at 11:50 am and is filed under biz, Blogging. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply