Joining a Salesforce Consultancy Project? Here’s what to expect

Joining a new consulting team can be exciting business

I’ve done almost every role in a consulting project rolling out CRM:

  • Business Analysis and Process Mapping skills to document requirements,
  • Functional Consultant, configuring the platform (Dynamics CRM) using declarative programming to build workflow and screens and etc
  • Tester, checking and validating code and build against said requirements
  • Trainer, often writing user manuals and training end users

Finally I became a Project Manager. The only role I never got to do was a developer one, mainly because I found out how pants I was at it (I did an exercise at university where my code ran to about 450 lines, and my classmate totally crushed hers in about 24 lines.)

It feels like I’ve been a Project Manager since forever, for both Salesforce and Dynamics CRM Projects . Not coincidentally, I believe that it’s where I am hedging my bets as well!

I get a lot of questions about what it’s like to work in a Consultancy team, especially from Salesforce or Dynamics professionals working in the end-user environments, as well as contractors or freelancers. Many have found that it is quite different from working in an end-user company.

As such, I thought it might be useful for me to share my experience as a Project Manager for a Consultancy led CRM Implementation – what it’s like from the ‘Inside’.

What the Project Manager expects from you

I always think that working in a Consultancy is very much like working in the aviation industry. A new team is put together for different projects and is expected to perform at the highest level to achieve a specific aim, such as deploying a system across multiple region or flying over 8000 miles across the pacific through horrendous weather activity.

Depending on the size of the Consultancy you’ve joined, you may or may not work with the same team mates on your next project, and this presents its unique challenges and fun. I know that in the Aviation industry, opportunities to work with the same crew member are few and far between.

I know we are not meant to judge people when we first meet them, but it’s something I learned that I had to do when I am presented with my new project team. This allows me to size up the situation quickly – whether the individual can perform to expected level, or whether they might need support to do so.

These are the two broad categories I use:

1. Conscientiousness

This means caring deeply about the quality of your work, and putting in a lot of effort to doing it well. When you are working with a Consultancy team, there will be an expectation of high standard of work. This includes attention to detail, focus on Big Picture thinking when problem solving, and persevering through challenging adversities.

If you’re a hammer, do you see all problems as a nail to be hammered? Do you use your experience and strength to only see a problem being resolved in the only way you know how? Do you seek to provide the ‘right’ solution, regardless of whether you have the current know-how to do so?

At the same time, you also understand that there is no ‘Perfect’ solution or approach to problems. With enough time, you can always find better, sexier, more efficient and more elegant way of doing things. Alas, that is not always the case.

In the world of Consultancy, time is money. We need to be able to produce high quality work. Quickly. Carefully. And whatever we propose needs to be strong enough to withstand detailed scrutiny.

I proofread every outgoing document. EVERY SINGLE ONE*. For clarity. For depth of thought. For robustness. All our documents and deliverables represent the work and quality of our Consultants. English is not my first language, but I am still a stickler for grammar, and punctuation on top of readability.

I like illustrations, graphics and diagrams, and I believe pictures can be worth more than a thousand words. Draw out that process map. Have call-outs that describe the hand-off process. Use legends, colours, keys, and contextual text. Make it so that the reader completely understands the message you are trying to convey.

I am a big believer that all conflict in the world can be traced to mismatched expectations.

You believe that you can date who you want. I don’t.

You believe that Brad Pitt is awesome. I think Ricky Gervais is so hot.

You think you’re getting a system that automatically goes into the Internet, retrieves the current exchange rate, calculates the whole order in the basket while applying retail discount and taking into account preferential rate for the customer and displays result in Klingon when I click this button. I think that button launches the calculator app for you to punch in your calculation.

It’s all about setting expectations so that all parties are on the same page. (very much like a marriage contract). If you do not, you will get into a whole world of pain. In the worst case scenario, you might end up in a legal situation.

All of this starts with the documentation that is produced. The language must be clear, and content must be concise and easy to understand.

In my world, you get extra brownie points if you know how to use Microsoft Word Styles and Table of Content properly!

That’s just the Deliverables and Documentation. I – as the Project Manager (the client as well) would expect the same kind of conscientious standard and attention to detail for how we conduct the rest of the project:

  • Preparing for calls, meetings and workshops. This includes prepping the client, ensuring they are aware of what is coming up, providing briefing material and/or obtaining artefacts (such as current reports or email/letter templates that go to client)
  • Documenting the outcome of those meetings, and workshops. Especially important is the writing up of requirements either within Design Documents or as User Stories with Acceptance Criteria**
  • Delivering on promises – doing what we say we are going to do. Of course life gets in the way sometimes: family gets sick, accidents happen, train journey gets stuck with leaves on the line, that sort of thing. However, if your work ethic shines through and shows that you have integrity to consistently deliver, then people will understand
  • Delivering to standard. If we do not understand anything, we must have the courage to speak up, and make sure we get the answers we seek. We are on the hook not only for doing what we say we are going to do, but doing them well.

As Consultants, we understand that a client is paying a lot for quality, and we must deliver. Sometimes when we get a new hire, or if a contractor joins the Consulting team, they may find that the environment and Project Manager a tad demanding.

I do make sure I serve a slice of charm with my demands, as I expect my team to deliver the goods. However, there is nothing to compare with the experience of working in a High Performing Team, tackling an exciting challenging project.

A lot of us get a real buzz from this, maybe this is what it’s like working in the F1 Pit team. When everything is running smoothly, when your team knows what everyone is thinking and what to do when a problem crops up – it’s amazing to watch.

2. Emotional Intelligence

from HBR

I am cheating, because the term EI actually encompasses these 4 important traits (italics quoted from

i. Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.

How does this consultant deal with constructive feedback? Do they get upset or do they get thoughtful? How do they deal with setbacks and disappointments? I believe that you can only see a person’s true strength when they face adversity. Not when things are going really well.

ii. Self-awareness – You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior. You know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.

It’s surprising how many people have a lack of self-awareness about their own strengths and weaknesses. This poses an issue when interacting with people and groups from diverse backgrounds in our industry.

It is challenging to manage someone who lacks self-awareness, because they are unable to see another point of view, and thus, unable to see the need for change. Sometimes I get this during a Salesforce vs Dynamics CRM Debate 😀

iii. Social awareness – You have empathy. You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.

People with social awareness are easy to talk to, because they can see and understand your point of view, and why you do/feel/think the way you do. Why you are the way you are.

iv. Relationship management – You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.

Can you have someone who is socially aware but isn’t great at relationship management? Yes. There are some people who can totally understand those whose views differ from their own, and yet choose not to engage with them.

Great team members should be able to work with people whose views oppose their own. It is perfectly fine to agree to disagree. Respectfully.

Just those two things?

Of course I look out for other traits that ease the wheels of teamwork – sense of humour, cooperation, engagement.

I used to schedule a 7am meeting that included our team UK and team India for a team-building session, where I would randomly ask questions (“Show me what you’re wearing on your right foot” “What was the last thing you ate that made you smile?”), play word games etc.

While I understood that getting the local team up at an earlier hour meant that they got less sleep which could impact their work during the day, I’ve never made it mandatory.

Did I expect them to dial-in at this crazy time? No, but I felt that it created a strong bond between all of us, regardless of time and distance, and whether you were just a hired contractor or not. It was obvious that my guys (and girls) believed it too, because they would remind me if I hadn’t done one for awhile. Even now, there are those who would still reminisce about it with me long after the project.

There’s a perception that it’s not worth hiring Consultants on expensive day rates for change or transformation projects.

I care deeply about the work that we do, and I believe in the people in my team whose values are aligned with mine. That is how I make sure that my team never provide a reason for any of our clients to believe in that perception.

Better than sugar high

When you work in a Consulting team, you will be among some amazingly clever people who will elevate you, and surround you with a buzz that can be very addicting. In a good way. Better than a sugar high, because deep human bonds created by shared experiences bring so much meaning and joy. That’s what I find. And that’s why I’m still in this industry.

If you’re looking to accelerate your Salesforce career, check out the Consulting world. It’s super fast paced, heady and exciting, but also very very rewarding***.

* I know not every PM does this, but I want to make sure that I am on top of everything my team is up to, and I never want to be caught out not understanding the solution that we are being paid to deliver

** Doing this well is SUPER important, especially from a Consulting point of view, because it allows more accurate effort estimation, and describes what it is we will be delivering

*** You will need to learn to manage your work well and set boundaries otherwise, you could overwork and burn out. To be fair, that can be applied to any other exciting career…

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