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Independent Consultants - Good Project Delivery Drives Sales
3 principles to ensuring successful engineering project delivery
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Many people treat sales and project delivery as separate parts of a consultancy.
Sales teams brings new clients in, while project delivery teams serve existing ones.
A common mistake that many consulting founders make is that they prioritize sales over delivery since sales brings new revenue in.
However it’s crucial to understand that good project delivery is what ultimately drives sales success.
If you consistently deliver results, clients are more likely to return to you in the future and refer you to others.
In this article, I share three key principles for ensuring smooth project delivery:
The importance of having a discovery phase
Focusing on the first and last weeks of an engagement
Having the right meeting cadence to ensure alignment among the team
Never Skip the Discovery Phase
Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had 8 hours to chop a tree, I’d spend 7 hours sharpening my axe.”
That is, the preparation is just as important as the execution itself. And this plays out in consulting implementations as well.
Most consulting engagements consist of two parts: discovery and implementation. Discovery is the planning phase, and implementation is when you actually start building.
Many engineers are over-eager to jump straight into the implementation phase. After all, coding is the fun part.
But rushing into building things is a mistake, as it’s important to always do a discovery phase first.
It’s during this phase that you understand what the problem is, align on the final deliverable, and uncover project risks.
Software consulting projects are like building a house.
Before we can put one brick down for a house, there’s a lot of planning that has to happen. You have to survey the land, measure everything out, apply for permits, and talk to vendors.
Similarly for a software project, there’s also a lot of planning and investigation that has to happen before implementation can start.
Otherwise you could find yourself using the wrong framework, or in the worst case, building the wrong thing entirely.
So before implementation starts, it’s important to align on these three deliverables during discovery:
A system design diagram so it’s clear what the changes you will make are
Product flows designs, like wireframes or mockups of what the user experience will look like for the final product
A week-by-week timeline for implementation
Having these three deliverables at the end of the discovery would be the equivalent of having a blueprint, timeline, and specifications doc for a house so that construction goes smoothly.
The First and Last Weeks are the Most Important Ones
The second principle to successful project delivery is to focus on the first and last weeks of a project.
These two weeks are when issues are most likely to arise.
In the first week, your primary goal is to align the team on the implementation plan, timelines, and priorities. This is also when you make sure everyone has all the right permissions so that they can start coding immediately.
Any lost time in the first week will push all the other deadlines back as well. These delays also compound over time, as a single day delay can easily turn into a week-long delay at the end of the month.
The last week is also important to focus on because there are a lot of moving parts. Knowledge transfer, handoffs, testing, deployments, and engagement extensions all happen this week.
This is also when team members may get reassigned to different projects, so it’s critical to wrap everything up now before team members move on.
Interestingly, the middle of the engagement is the smoothest, as that’s when the engineers start coding and doing what they do best. So as long as they are off on the right direction after the first week, things are less likely to go wrong here.
I recommend paying close attention to the first and last weeks, setting daily goals for the team, and even having daily standup meetings to make sure everything is moving forward as expected.
Once these two weeks pass, you can adjust the meeting cadence as necessary.
Meeting Timing Matters
Lastly, I’ve found that the timing of your internal team meetings can greatly affect the smooth execution of a project.
I used to have standup meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays with my team, but I realized that this leaves 4 days between Thursday and the next Tuesday meeting for things to go off course.
Now I recommend having team meetings on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That way, you can set priorities for the team on Monday, and ensure that there is no more than 1 day between meetings for things to go awry.
This is particularly important in this day and age when teams are remote. To make up for the lack of face-to-face communication, more frequent standups are critical.
Additionally, I’ve found that it is important to have 1:1’s every two weeks with all team members including freelancers and contractors, especially for longer-term projects.
When working remotely, there’s no “water-cooler” talk where you passively pick up on project details.
These 1:1’s are your opportunity to hear about project risks and implementation details that might not get surfaced in team-wide meetings.
They are also your chance to give feedback on what they’re doing well, and what they can improve on.
Both these 1:1 meetings and team standups are the main touch points when you speak with your team, and so it’s important to get these meetings right.
Successful project delivery drives sales. By:
not skipping out on a discovery phase
focusing on the first and last weeks of an engagement and
scheduling both 1:1’s and team-wide meetings on a regular cadence
your engagements will go smoother and drive your consultancy’s growth.
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