For many years, one of my “saws” about the consulting business is that the clients in which you have the most travails together end up being some of your best relationships for years to come.
Mutual problem solving, creative solutioning, and triumph over roadblocks is very satisfying, albeit the cause of some sleepless nights at the time. Of course we prefer every engagement to go as planned, on-time and under budget, while exceeding expectations.
“From time to time, even the most straight-forward and seemingly simple engagements go sideways.”
Recall, I wrote recently that good work is not necessarily good service.
But from time to time, even the most straight-forward and seemingly simple engagements go sideways. Kind of like cruising down a straight, flat Great Plains highway on cruise control and a deer appears out of nowhere in front of the vehicle.
You brake, you swerve, you hold your breath.
Best result - you and the animal are safe, though the hearts of both skipped a few beats.
Worst case - a significant collision occurs, the deer does not survive, and you and your vehicle careen off the road, roll a few times and well, let’s not go to the absolute worst case scenario.
This was supposed to be a stress-free jaunt down the road and circumstances beyond your control have changed your plans, if not your life. Client engagements tend to mirror this from time to time.
“You will be recognized for the value you bring. And the client will see that you have developed more than a transactional relationship; you have built a bond of trust.”
Are there specific actions that can be taken to avoid such scenarios? Well, since this is real life and we work with fallible human beings, the answer is no. However, there are some things that we can keep in mind as we endeavor to avoid full-on crashes.
- Expect the unexpected. War-gaming, simulation, whatever you want to call it is a valuable use of time. Brainstorm with your team “what could go wrong and what would be the impact to the project?” Contingency plans form responses, but also inform and strengthen your initial plans as well. Sometimes the craziest scenarios come true;
- Cultivate broad relationships. The more people you know, the more resources and allies you can call into play. Determine who you trust and with whom you can have frank discussions and generate decision-making flows;
- Learn from previous mistakes. It’s true that history repeats itself, but not true that we are good at learning from it. Documenting the work you’ve done, how and why you’ve made a decision, and what you’ve learned along the way can help you respond more easily and effectively to the unexpected. Gray hair and battle scars have merit;
- Assign a Rapid Response team member. Think of them as a project First Responder. If an issue surfaces the day after the Steering Committee meeting where all was well, this person goes into action to gather facts, engage stakeholders, and design decision options as quickly as possible. If the issue is significant enough, nothing else matters for this team member;
- Have a communication plan with varying levels of issue severity. The Steering Committee does need to hear about every routine task being completed, but they sure as heck want to know about show-stoppers and what actions are required of them to resolve issues. Conversely, tangential resources should have visibility into their requirements and timing so they can act appropriately.
"In the long run your best road to prosperity may involve regrouping, recasting, and retrenching on the project."
In spite of your best intentions to avoid swerves in the road, going into a ditch, or full-stop collision, there are times when the best action is to step back, take a collective breath, and re-examine the project plan. The reasons are numerous, but in the long run your best road to prosperity may involve regrouping, recasting, and retrenching on the project.
As the consulting partner, you may get kicked around. You may get bloodied. Your skill may be questioned. However, keep your head clear, your hands on the wheel, and drive the project and the team to safety. You will be recognized for the value you bring. And the client will see that you have developed more than a transactional relationship; you have built a bond of trust.
And isn’t that what we want from what we do for clients?
Dennis Heppner is a Principal at JBF Consulting. Dennis’ expertise in transportation, logistics and supply chain operations, and third-party providers spans 25+ years. His experience is broad-based, spanning entire supply chains, including business process redesign, sourcing, distribution network design, transportation management, distribution operations, outsourcing selection, and business strategy for major manufacturers, distributors, retailers including eCommerce, and service organizations.
About JBF Consulting
Since 2003, we’ve been helping shippers of all sizes and across many industries select, implement and squeeze as much value as possible out of their logistics systems. We speak your language — not consultant-speak – and we get to know you. Our leadership team has over 70 years of logistics and TMS implementation experience. Because we operate in a niche — we’re not all things to all people — our team members have a very specialized skill set: logistics operations experience + transportation technology + communication and problem-solving skills + a bunch of other cool stuff.