As A Consultant: Post #1 – Communications

During my career, I spent many years in the role of project manager with the “opportunity” to work with various “contractors” or “consultants”. I told all of the same jokes…”Did you hear about the consultant who…”, and many times pointed to a consultant as the “problem” in what ever project was happening at the moment.

Interestingly, for the past several years I have switched roles, and have spent my time AS the consultant, now facing the challenge of working with a variety of project managers. Now I find myself telling the same jokes, just switching out the role titles. I now find myself feeling the same frustrations and confusions I faced before, with a gnawing desire to apologize to a lot of “consultants” from my past.

It has led me to reflect on my experience, and to see if I could understand what has made this manager-consultant thing such as tough one. To help me peel the layers, I’m going to use my blog as the listening ear. I thought I would share my first post here as well. As I do that, my comments are not targeted at any ‘one’ manager or consultant…these things have been issues in most everyone manager-consultant situation I’ve been in, on both sides. I’m hoping that as I explore them, I might find some ways to have a bit less frustration and stress in the future. If they are of interest to anyone else…that’s icing on the cake.

Item #1: Management 101

Ok, let’s begin with a reality check for managers. First, whatever the project is, it is YOUR project. You live with it, you may deal with a lot of people around it. You may have to sort through a PILE of details, terms and acronyms about it. As the project manager, you have access (we hope) to every detail and every change as it occurs.

1. As the consultant, I know as much as you share with me, WHEN  you share it with me. If we have a plan in place and changes take place in another meeting you attend, I only know about those changes if and when you tell me. If I continue to work based on the previous plan, it is a management issue.

Example: “Oh, I forgot to tell you, the IT group decided last Friday that we could not do it like we planned. We need to rebuild it.”

2. Related to the above, this is YOUR project and you have the absolute right to involve as many other people and groups as you want to involved. However, if you are going to be talking separately with 5 different groups about how to design your course, and not tell any of them what the others are saying, it is problematic to ask me why someone told you what they told you, and why someone else told you something different. If  you want my informed input about the discussion, I need to be more involved in the discussion. This is a management issue.

Example: I was in a meeting with Fred and Ethyl this morning and they said that I had to do it this way, why would they say that? Why didn’t Lucy and Ricky tell me that when I talk with them last night? What should I say to Wilma and Fred this afternoon, and George and Judy when I talk with them about it tonight?

3. If you send another email with a few incomplete sentences that include acronyms and terms I have not been given access to previously, that is going to lead to more emails and more time, and is a management issue.

Example: “…and be sure to publish Sue’s module using the FLD core that HR wants, unless the access issues might be too much, but that would be another HR thing we need to talk about maybe at some point unless you can make it fit with the L642 policy here, which we’ve not talked about…Sue’s module was the one we discussed 3 weeks ago…”

4. If I send an email with a specific question, but you only quickly scan my message and then respond with a nice and brief message that does not provide me with an answer, I am still answer-less. If I do my best to state my question clearly, and even provide specific options for your response, and you respond with something completely different that contains things we’ve never talked about before, I am still answer-less. The result is that you will most likely receive another email; not because I like to spend time on email, but because I really do need an answer. This is a management issue.

Example: Q: Should this module be made available to everyone, or only to users in a specific group? A: There are only three groups that we have current projects with, and they are all related to HR.

5. If we are following an agreed plan and I submit work to you for review, and  you respond by saying that all looks fine, I am going to proceed with the work with the understanding that it “all looks fine”. If you then email me three weeks later to say “I’ve finally had time to take a look at the work…” and you tell me that all is NOT fine, it does not mean that you get a stack of free time for me to go back and redo the past three weeks of work. It is a management issue.

Example: “I’ve been really busy and had one of my staff review things for me. Now that I see it myself, we need to make some big changes.”

6. If we have a plan in place that includes content or other deliverables from you, if I don’t get those deliverables on time, it will most likely mean that things are not going to be completed on the original schedule. I realize you are busy, but 16 hours of development work takes 16 hours whether it begins at the original time or it begins 2 weeks later. I will do my best to empathize with your workload, but that’s about all I can offer.

Example: “I ended up getting pulled into extra meetings with IT, and QA, and the web folks, and just didn’t get those things sent to you until today. But we still need to meet the deadline, which is next week.

I’ll stop here for now, with the statement that I agree that not all consultants are all that great either. But speaking AS a consultant who tries very hard to do what I say I will do, when I say I will do them, these are some of the things that make me open my timezone page in my web browser just to remember that it is indeed 5:00 somewhere.

The key I’m thinking about at the moment? Communication is key in any relationship, and the key to communication is to be thinking about the person on the receiving end as you ‘do’ your communicating. If you don’t ‘send’ the info in a way that will make sense to them in their world, don’t ever expect that info to be ‘received’ in a useful way. In my view, the burden is on the sender…

, by : imagilearning