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Consulting Work that Does not Scale Due to Meetings

Consulting Work that Does not Scale Due to Meetings
Photo by Chris Montgomery / Unsplash

Throughout the first year of being an independent consultant, I've said "yes" to a lot of different opportunities. The variety of work I've done has been an incredible learning experience and is all part of the process of figuring out something that might scale.

Some of this work does not scale. I've learned that I have to be very careful with non-scalable work because I won't be able to do much of it simultaneously.

The common thread of "non-scalability" has to do with large amounts of meetings. There are only so many meetings you can attend in a week, and, you want to avoid having "your unit of work = meetings".

There's no energy left for anything else if you're doing more than 3-4 meetings per day. I've had MANY 8+ meeting days and I'll do anything to avoid that in the future.

If you're going to take on these types of projects, be sure to:

  • Charge enough that do don't need to do much else while these types of projects are going
  • Don't over-commit to more than one or two of this type of project at the same time

These project types take an enormous amount of time:

Non-Scalable Project Type #1:

Vendor Review and Selection

If a client needs you to help them choose a vendor and select that vendor, be prepared for a metric shit-ton of meetings. For EACH vendor that they want you to evaluate, figure:

    • Initial outreach
    • Meeting with inside sales rep
    • Meeting with the real "territory" sales rep
    • Meeting with the "solutions/sales engineer"
    • Meeting(s) between solutions/sales engineer and existing systems that you want it to play well with
    • Then, meeting with initial "close group" of internal stakeholders, then
    • Meeting(s) with end-users and people further down the corporate ladder internally
    • Internal meetings between these meetings
    • Reference calls for vendor, usually at least 3 meetings
    • Proposal back-and-forth meetings, usually a half dozen

And so on and so forth. Figure at least a dozen meetings for each possible vendor. If you're going to evaluate 4 vendors that's probably at least 12 x 4 meetings or 48 hours minimum of baseline meetings. Double that for vendors that become finalists and get to a proposal level. That's not counting scheduling around vacations, business trips, etc.

Non-Scalable Project Type #2:

Big Cross-Functional System Implementation

Any big system implementation is going to be unique to that particular company to some degree. Not rubber-stamp-able. These systems are also going to be highly cross-functional and that means absolutely shitloads of meetings with different people.

The big system implementations have the following aspects that take an enormous amount of time:

    • Standup meetings - could be daily or twice daily
    • Slack chats/channels all day and night
    • Executive "manage up" status meetings
    • Data migration pre, during, and post meetings as well as incremental migrations and test migrations. Lots of people "asking for the data" and then "asking for the data in a different way" back and forth.
    • End user training and expectations management
    • Change management communications and meetings throughout the company
    • Integration meetings with other vendors that must play nice with new system
    • Curveballs from stakeholders that weren't included earlier
    • Awkward scope creep meetings, change requests, and re-negotiations with vendors
    • Multiplication of meetings as various different user groups and stakeholders rotate into the project phases
    • Unexpected alternative solution vendor meetings and requirements (getting into project type #1 above but also within this project type!)

Non-Scalable Project Type #3:

Corporate/System Landscape Assessment & Recommendations

Any time you're doing discovery a company that is new to you in order to deliver recommendations, you're going to need a huge amount of meetings.

You need to meet with as many "boots on the ground" people as you can to get a real feel for what you're dealing with, and quickly. That means meetings every day for several weeks, and some meetings may spawn new meetings with new people ("oh I don't do that part, you have to meet with Joe over in engineering" - that's a new meeting).

Meeting with you won't be anyone's top priority, either, so you may have to re-schedule multiple times. Nobody at the company knows you and half of them are probably paranoid about your presence there.

Once you deliver your recommendations, you may get feedback that can lead to a ton more meetings.

You may discover that you need meetings with:

    • Many associated vendors and freelancers and consultants allied to the company
    • Departments in the company that you had no idea were involved (and, likely, others didn't know either) in the processes/areas you're evaluating
    • Partner companies tied to certain processes
    • Various people that "know where all the bodies are buried" but are also just as likely to send you on a few wild goose chases

Figure several dozen meetings, minimum, to get a feel for any new company that you are doing any sort of discovery with.

These are all fine types of projects

...But don't expect to do many of them at once. Plan accordingly as far as required income and your own schedule so you don't turn every day into 100% meetings.