At InterWorks, we pride ourselves on making genuine connections with our clients and delivering excellent value and service at the same time. We’ve written about our approach to great consulting in a blog series, and I’ve called out the particular soft skills for consultants that are critical to success.
However, learning how to be a great consultant is hard, and it takes time and experience. Projects can differ greatly from one to the other, and there are plenty of unexpected challenges that can throw a wrench into the best-made plans. Off the top of my head here are some things I’ve come across:
- QA issues with data where reconciling to the source of truth took much longer than expected.
- A senior executive requested a last-minute reporting requirement that changes core functionality of the dashboard.
- A database has an unexpected driver issue with Tableau that needs to be escalated through Tableau support.
Navigating these surprises, especially for the first time, is tough. It’s just like learning to ride a bike where your first attempts are wobbly and you may will fall down. Or, when I think about my transition to clipless pedals for road cycling, you know you’re going to fall, you just don’t know when it’s going to happen:
Above: Via Giphy
But thankfully, it gets better. Like riding a bike, you internalize your learning and experiences and you won’t forget how to navigate those challenges. And, even luckier for me, I work with some pretty talented consultants who can share great advice on this very topic.
In May, our whole company gathered for a few days of team bonding and learning. I organized a panel discussion around challenging projects with four amazing members of our team, Keith Dykstra, Brooks Barth, Madeline Cook and Matt Woods. Each of them shared a story around a difficult project, what they learned and takeaways they could share with the rest of our group.
Here was some sound advice from that conversation:
From Keith Dykstra:
Repeat back: “Let me make sure I heard you correctly…” is a great way to catch up on the conversation and confirm you’re driving towards the right outcomes. “How might we…?” is also a really powerful phrase. This invites everyone to solve the problem together. Finally, give options: Sometimes what was originally asked for may not be technically feasible, so present multiple alternatives.
From Brooks Barth:
Be Authentic in Communication: It is always best to present your authentic self when interacting with customers. That is core to having many long lasting and multi-faceted relationships with our clients.
From Madeline Cook:
Create a Plan of Action (in the form of a structured roadmap or status meeting agenda). Consider sharing with client in advance, and including any questions that they may have sent via email at the top of the agenda to validate their concerns.
From Matt Woods:
Don’t hesitate to reach out for help: Don’t hesitate to get others involved if you’re facing a challenge. Members of your team will often have great input that can guide you to a solution or problem solve with you. We have a lot of resources available to us and a lot of people who are more than happy to help.
I’m so grateful that we were able to have such open dialogue around challenging circumstances, and our panelists shared their stories with humility and grace. I hope this is helpful for anyone reading this that might be struggling with a challenging project. You’re not alone! You may have felt that you’ve had a fall but be patient with yourself and it gets easier. Here’s to some smooth riding in the future!
Above: Via Giphy