When I started LLP Group in the early 1990s (in Czechoslovakia, not then the Czech Republic) a sense of commercial pragmatism was an uncommon thing. This was true both of potential customers and of my first employees. Customers, emerging from the sloth of the socialist system, expected everything for nothing, perhaps partly because of the socialist instinct that intellectual work doesn’t count as real work, doesn’t have the same value, say, as a piece of coal hewn from underground. It was pointless, at that time, to justify value in units other than blood, sweat and tears.
LLP Group was supporting the financial systems of ‘Western’ corporations who had rushed in to the new markets of former ‘Eastern Europe’. We sold and supported the British accounting software, SunSystems, which was then, and still is, the best piece of software in the world for the simultaneous management of both local (often complex) statutory requirements, and corporate reporting against different accounting standards. It was a hectic time and we spent our days rushing from one client to another to configure new things or deal with the unexpected. There was as much work as we could manage.
I can’t drive, so I was profligate with taxis. But it took me months to persuade my Czech employees to do the same when going from one site to another. They took buses, or trams, or the metro, and sometimes they walked. I remember one winter when one of them arrived at the office on skis.
‘Taxis are so expensive,’ they would tell me.
In vain would I protest that their time was worth more than the cost of the taxi, even when taking account of customary overcharging. And it wasn’t as if I kept our hourly fee rates secret from them, so they knew that.
It was simply bad planning, and bad time management.
The life of the consultant is dense with incident and demands. If we’re lucky, we’re doing many things at the same time, writing about one project, preparing for another, discussing, meeting, learning, listening, and so on. We must work as efficiently as possible, not only so that we ourselves can enjoy the rewards of high utilisation and chargeable time, but so that others can do so too, and so that our clients can benefit from our work quickly and efficiently.
Consultants must plan well if they are to avoid:
- Being late, and wasting time
- Being early, and wasting time
- Wasting travel time by travelling inefficiently
- Being unprepared
- Being ill-coordinated with others (others being late, early, or unprepared)
This isn’t a matter of good project management. Project management is a related, but different, skill, and one in which some consultants specialise. Rather, this is about personal planning. To be a good, and efficient, consultant you’ve got to be good at personal planning.
Planning is (obviously) about thinking ahead, all the time, thinking about:
- Logistics – where you have to be, how you’ll get there, what schedule is the most efficient
- Dependencies – what needs to have happened for you to do what you need to do, or what you need to do in order for others to be able to do what they must do
- Estimating – how long things will take
- Contingency planning – what you’ll do if things don’t happen as planned
- be the person to whom things simply happen in sequence
- simply react to what the next moment demands
- order a taxi when you’re ready to leave, but order it in advance.
- think about the materials you’ll need to complete a task only when the task is about to begin
- be surprised by how long things take
And because your plan inevitably depends on the plans of others, communication is vital.
One last point: if there’s something you can do at once, without adverse implications for your own plan or others’ plans, then DO IT. There’s always less to go wrong later if something can be completed now. It’s true that sometimes you might be wasting time, but if it’s time you would otherwise have spent in idle conversation, playing a computer game or watching a soap opera, then it doesn’t really matter.
Now, look at the next item on your to do list…and get on with it!