One Step Ahead

Think about it!!  How can you be the expert to the client when you don’t know how they operate?
You know there are problems or you wouldn’t be there.  You know your software, but you have no real clue what your stepping into.  Is this going to be the best client you ever had?  Or could it be the opposite?  We know so little as the engagement begins.  So, if your like me, this is where I get myself established and start things out, positioning just one step ahead.

A very wise person told me early in my career that a five-minute head start on answers, is all that’s needed to keep the client happy.  The truth is, that just coming up with the question before the client is a win.  We’ve traveled the road the client is on before, in some form, but each is an entirely new experience, requiring new questions, new answers and new directions.  So how do we know in advance how to lead?  Think faster!!  Use your experience to get to the question first, or just ask the leading questions that get the client to come up with their own answers.  Your still the expert if your leading.  Give them your confidence, and if you’re lacking enough, fake it.  You’re the leader only if you step out first.

To get ahead from the start, I begin day one at EVERY client dressed in a suit and tie even if I’ve been told business casual is ok.  I arrive earlier than expected forcing the client to change their arrival routines and I jump right in with questions about expectations of the outcome.  Requirements are king.  Several times as a junior member of a team, my confidence has convinced the client I was the manager and not just a lead.

A little secret here – the first week is a pain at every site.  No access, no clear plan, no relationship with counterparts and no clear idea of the culture.  You’d better have a game plan for staying busy and accomplishing something when there’s no assignment yet.  Start asking questions.  This is the best way to make success from the beginning.

  1. Who are your counterparts and how do you get the relationship started?
  2. Who are the stakeholders, the decision makers and can relationships be started with them as well?
  3. How do you get access to the system (both old and new)?
  4. How do you access away from the client site?
  5. What are the expectations?

Staying a step ahead isn’t easy all the time, but when you start out in front it’s easier to continue leading.  And if you haven’t figured it out yet, questions are the absolute best way to lead.  Sure we have answers, but our answers are shaped by the expectations of the client and the only way to those expectations is through questions.

I’m just beginning to see; I’m on my way

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