As a consultant I move around a lot between clients. In this article I share some insights about what a typical first day looks like when I’m visiting a new customer.
Most of the time the sales people have already established a basic outline of the work that needs to be done. And being a project consultant, I’m a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades. I know “a bit” about the Office suite, SharePoint, workflows, project management… But I focus my attention on Microsoft Project in any form: the standalone application, Project Server or my new favorite — Project Online.
Generally speaking, there are two jobs I’m most frequently called in to work on: 1) a technical installation and 2) the design of a Project or Project Online solution. The technical installation of Project Server doesn’t happen much anymore due to the huge success of Project Online and the ease of starting up without having to worry about the infrastructure issues. So I’ll focus on a “designing” assignment.
The first two questions I get asked in the introduction are always answered with “Yes” and “Yes”: “Did I have a good trip?” and “Would I like some coffee?” This is usually followed by some more small talk at the coffee corner where I tend to find out the client’s proficiency with Microsoft Project and project management. Questions such as, “Have you worked with Project before?” and “What were the other options you looked at before coming to us?” get most clients talking and providing valuable information for me.
Most often designing a new project solution will start with a visioning phase wherein I have morning meetings with the client and a couple of key users or stakeholders. During such a meeting I frequently have a presentation ready related to the goals the client has. For instance, the client might desire a solution with a focus on capacity management, portfolio management, timesheets, project lifecycle or even more exotic wishes where they desire synchronization between other (mostly financial) systems.
During these meetings we cover exploratory questions so that I gain a clear perspective on the solution that would suit the client best. Maybe a customer has already prepared some examples of how they currently work and what would need to change.
The Draft and Gathering Data
Most of the time I work with Project Online. That means that there’s no installation required anymore, and I can dive straight on down to configuration. So starting right after lunch, I sit down at a desk and start creating a first draft of the solution, which requires getting the basic settings right on the tenant for the client (currency, Project Server permissions mode, time zone, auto scheduled tasks, and so on). After setting up the basics, I create custom fields, look up tables, views and — if there’s time — an enterprise project type (EPT), with or without workflow. I’ll put in the key users and stakeholders to give them the option to test the first draft. That usually ends the first day. And yes, I’d love another cup of coffee, please.
During the meetings and the designing of the first draft, I start documenting design steps and information. This content will be for my own use as well as for the design document or manual that will become a deliverable at the end of the assignment.
As you might understand: designing a completely new or even an upgraded version of a project solution at a client isn’t something I could do in one day.
Most of the time the client will perform in-house testing of the first draft, followed by additional meetings and subsequent additions and changes until we have a true first version of the solution.
What gets skipped more times than I’d like? Training! I would love to tell you that I always end an assignment with training for the admins, key users, project managers and schedulers, but I’d be writing fiction. Most of the time a client will have a very limited budget set aside for these crucial training activities.
After the solution is implemented and the client begins working with it, there will usually arise some need for training or adjustments. So I’ll return to grab another cup of coffee and have a lovely chat.
This a general perspective of a new assignment. My main goal is getting the client the best solution for their current Project needs and building a sustainable solution that is ready for expansion. Of course, this means that I will need to be flexible and listen a lot, so every assignment is different from the other.
What are your experiences with consultants — internal or external — like? Share your stories and best practices with the MPUG community in the comments below.