Monday, 28 December 2009

Great clients? Maybe - or maybe you just need a great consultant....

I was going through my feeds on Google Reader in some well-deserved downtime this Christmas. I've neglected my blog reading over the last months, so it's been a bit of a catch-up. One of my favourite authors is Seth Godin, who's a very smart guy, and I often make a note of some of his posts as things I want to re-read.

However, one particular post - How to be a great client - doesn't quite ring true for me. Perhaps because of the industry that I work in, but then again, I'm not convinced that this should be a major factor.

Basically Seth's argument is that clients have a responsibility to help to "foster innovation". I can understand where he is coming from. Too often in our line of work, we walk into a client site and they expect us to bring the "magic pill" that will cure all of our problems. Oh, and they don't want to pay too much for it. And can it work by Friday? We have deadlines don't you know.....

So yes, there is an element of truth in Seth's statements. Clients do need to be open to ideas, they do need to be truthful with us. Otherwise this is going to be a difficult partnership. However, I firmly believe that this could just have easily be turned around. 

The consultant is equally responsible for this relationship working. A client can be as open to innovation as possible, but the consultant still has to be able to see things from the client's point of view. There will always be differences of opinion. There will be issues that will annoy both sides. This is normal (and probably healthy in many cases) but too often I think that consultants become blinded by the little annoyances. "They'll never do that - they don't have the vision" or "it's too difficult to get xxx to do anything", etc.

We, as consultants, are paid to help the client to get into a position where they are open to innovation. If you've got a client who is already in that position your job is easy. You do the research, you identify opportunities and you help them on the journey they choose. It's when the client isn't sure why they got you in, or are overly protective of their business model that the consultant has to earn their bacon. This isn't selling ice to eskimos. It's helping someone who wants to make a change, but is scared of doing so and taking them on the journey towards making that change as part of a partnership.

Great clients do exist. They're awesome to work with. But for a consultant, the time when you really get to make a difference and affect change is when you get an awkward client. And let's face it, that challenge is why we all got into this industry in the first place. Isn't it?

Sunday, 27 December 2009

New direction for this blog

Ok, for the umpteenth time, I'm going to restart my blogging. I've never really gotten into this for some reason, but my New Year's resolution is to really start to make an effort.

So what will the focus of the blog be going forward? Well, primarily it's going to be my thoughts on Project Management and Consultancy, seeing as that's what I do. However, as it's a personal blog, I'm going to start adding my thoughts on the web, sports and recent news events, atheism, photography, music and films. Or anything else I get passionate enough to want to commit my thoughts to the internet for!

So, let's see how it goes. Will I be able to keep this up? How long will it last? Does anyone even care? :-)

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Working together - is it really that hard?

I got very frustrated today. Partially I suspect this is born out of the stupid hours I have been working for the last 6 months. I haven't had a single day off and I've had to work a lot of weekends too. That adds up and eventually I guess you reach breaking point. Today I did and I regret it.

Working in distributed teams is difficult. Especially if there is an element of distrust there. That's what we've got into here. One team is located in London, the other is offshore. We're in the first week of String test and we've already got an "it's a Build team issue" vs "no it's an Integration team issue" argument going. This is going to be a very difficult String test if this continues.

So what am I doing? I'm calling a meeting for tomorrow morning and I'm going to make it clear that this will not be acceptable, not from my team, nor from Build. There are no "Build issues", no "Integration issues", just String test issues and I expect both teams to work together to resolve them. It should not be this difficult to get two teams on the same project to work together to resolve something that makes both teams look bad.

What annoys me is that this is something that should not be an issue anymore. The people involved have all been on the project for over a year. Have we done such a poor job of offshoring our build team that they still feel outside of the project, or that once they throw the code over the fence that's it, job done? I hope not. I hope that this is a blip and that we'll get through this. Unfortunately I'm not overly optimistic.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Go-live marathon

So last weekend was the big go-live for my project. Thankfully it was pretty big success. Kind of. Although we managed the upgrade, with no major defects and all 10 countries live it was a bit of a struggle and I ended up working 27 hours straight!

It was quite weird actually - we started at 3pm on Saturday and were expecting to work until about 2am (the joys of a global system - it's all about minimising the downtime for the "important" countries). Unfortunately, things didn't go quite according to plan so we didn't really finish until 5/6ish. I was supposed to be back in on Sunday at 8 for the start of testing, so I figured, I'll just work straight through.

At first, I was pretty knackered, but by the late morning I was surprisingly awake. The afternoon I seemed to keep going without any ill effects, but by 5 I was flagging. I thought about trying to see it through to the last checkpoint call (7:45), but decided home was the right decision!

I started a film at 8 to try and not destroy my body clock and wake up at 4am, but I fell asleep anyway, woke at 11pm, back to sleep, then up at 8am to spend another 8hrs online. Fun eh?

Got some great comments though, so I'm hoping that it won't have done the old career prospects any harm! I'll try and post some thoughts on the go-live in general later this week.

Monday, 4 May 2009

What do I actually contribute?

Just had lunch with some friends in Greenwich (The Yacht - not one of the best places for food if you're interested). Two of them work for the same company as me. Sam is currently thinking about becoming a volunteer constable for the London Police. He says he is bored of the same middle-class people all day long and wants to see a bit more of London.

Yesterday I was speaking to a friend from uni, she's looking for jobs at the moment, specifically one for a charity. I'm sure she won't mind me quoting her: "I want to know I'm making a difference for people who don't have a voice for themselves".

At the same time, I'm currently in the process of applying for a scheme at work to allow me to take a year out and go to work for VSO. Ideally I want to get the chance to go back to Africa, but I'm pretty open to going anywhere.

So what's the thinking behind all of this? I genuinely believe that more and more people my age (late 20's) are thinking about what their job actually means. What do we contribute? Am I proud of what I do?

For me, it's a bit of a strange situation. I've lived in Ghana, I've done volunteer work before. I tried (unsuccessfully) to get into charity IT work when I came back and settled for a company that felt a bit more personable that some of the uber-consultancies.Obviously I have previous in this area so it's not unsurprising that I would ask these sort of questions, but I do find it interesting that others my age are asking the same questions.

If I was a charity, I would be falling over myself to make the most of this - instead of taking on stale, ageing workers who just want to get out of the rat-race, why not employ young, hungry graduates with a few years experience and lots of ideas. You get enthusiasm, energy and dedication, all for significantly less money than their more experienced counter-parts!

Either way, it's something that I think is becoming more important for graduates. Saving Bland Incorporated such and such a year on their IT infrastructure just isn't as fulfilling as knowing that the company you work for makes a real difference to people's lives and I for one look forward to being proud of the company I work for.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Let's try again

Ok, so recent events have made me think I need to restart this blog. I've had a few ups and downs in my personal life over the last year, but I'm confident that all the right decisions have been made and I'm now back where I should be (and I don't just mean London!).

I haven't decided whether I'm going to change the focus of this blog. Music and the IT industry are still massive parts of my life. Most of the blogs I read are on this subject, but there are enough other, much better informed than me, people already commenting on these subjects.

I guess this will therefore be a bit of an organic growth - just see what happens! There might well be some more personal posts on here than I originally intended, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Might even be good for me to get some thoughts down on paper!