Without question, the answer is yes.
Working on consulting projects is very rewarding personally when things are going well. I really enjoy seeing companies thrive and achieve their potential. If I can play some small role in a client’s journey toward greatness, that’s a great feeling.
Unfortunately, none of us bat 1.000 and success is definitely not an entitlement. The best laid plans sometimes just don’t pan out. This is especially hard for a person who really doesn’t like to fail.
The example that sticks out in my mind was a company in the construction sector. This company was trying to improve their sales process, mostly due to the impact of competitive pressures that were very effective, and having a negative effect on the client.
The business was very sucesptible to ups and downs based on the pipeline of construction projects available. Their product was somewhat commoditized, and the although on paper their quality assurance processes were best-in-class, the customers just seemed reluctant to assign monetary value to it.
The solution we came up with was to change the sales process and begin focusing on managing the pipeline of projects proactively. The client typically was dependent on the customer to provide the sales team with project related information.
Our research indicated that in many cases the sales team was not getting complete information about all of the projects available. Additionally, the data indicated that when project information came from the customer, it wasn’t covering the client’s complete product offering. The solution we developed was custom web based software that would import project level data from a third party, filter and assign relevant projects to the sales team, and then provide a mechanism for the project to be followed to win or loss.
The project was delivered, but the traction just wasn’t there. There was very limited adoption of the system and the utlization rate really never got off the ground. It would be easy for me to say that the client was not forceful enough with accountability, or something like that. To be sure, I do believe that there were things that the client could have done better.
That said, there were things I could have done better as well. I learned a lot from from that project about what to do and what not to do when trying to build a custom software system and drive it into the client’s corporate culture. The major lessons learned for me were:
- Spend time with the actual end users early on designing the user interface. This is especially true when it is a system that requires a lot of input. This is a chance to find out if there any early adopters in the group, and helps build some buy-in up front.
- Be more candid early on with the management of the client when the cracks start to show. Had I done this more assertively, I think the outcome would have been the same, but the client would have saved time and money becuase we could have potentially killed the project before delivery.
- First line supervisors of the people who have to use the system are important. They are in the trenches everyday. They are the first line of defense in promoting utilization. If they are not bought in, the project is over before it starts.
As frustrating as it is to see a project fail, there is something to be learned from every situation. Fortunately, I had another opportunity later on with the same client that required a custom software solution, and the lessons I learned here helped avoid the same pitfalls and the client ended up with a product that their team was very happy with.