It's been just over a year since I accepted a job as an analytics practitioner. At that point I'd been an analytics consultant in some form or another for 7 years, so it was a pretty dramatic move for me. The scope of my responsibility changed, too: I went from being a vice president at a very small company to being a director at a very large company. Plus I went from working at home to working in a high rise downtown. A lot has changed.
Over the past year, many of my analytics industry peers have asked me what it was like to switch teams. At this anniversary mark I'm finally able to reflect and share some observations.
1) A practitioner has an open-ended statement of work
Consultants develop and execute statements of work. Typically an entire project will get defined and agreed upon in advance - all the project milestones, all the deliverables. Because of this structure, I felt I had fairly clear blueprints for my work as a consultant.
As a practitioner, I applied for my position based on an initial job description, and then I continue to course-correct over time based on goals set jointly with my manager. That's not the same as a consulting statement of work, though. It's open-ended. I don't just produce the deliverable, collect payment and leave. The scope is adjustable and that's perfectly fine. I'm in this for the long haul.
2) What's the hold-up?
As a consultant, I used to wonder what took some of my enterprise clients so long to respond to my inquiries. I would hand something over for them to review and they would go silent, often for weeks.
You know what, I finally understand what goes on in that silent period. They're not just slacking. They're actually quite active within the walls of their company - talking to colleagues, getting buy-in, jumping through hoops. It can be frustrating. Things can take a long time. Some enterprises are more nimble than others, but we all have to deal with process, bureaocracy and red tape.
Please, please, consultants and vendors - please be aware that your clients aren't ignoring you. They're just navigating the waters of their company.
3) Meetings upon meetings upon meetings
When I started my job as a practitioner, my calendar was a blank slate. Then I started to get a few meetings. I happily accepted them - how flattering, people want to talk to me! Then I got a few more meetings. Then I started taking lunch meetings, and early morning meetings, and whole days worth of back-to-back half hour meetings - and then aaaaah, complete calendar gridlock!
As a consultant, a meeting meant that I was on billable time with a client, so I tried to make things as efficient and concise as possible. Practitioners don't necessarily have that same level of discipline. In the worst-case scenario, meetings can be incredibly wasteful and inefficient. If every meeting attendee billed hourly for the meetings they were expected to attend, perhaps we'd have fewer meetings (and the ones we do have would actually be fruitful).
Despite my distaste for meetings, though, I do realize that I have quite a few colleagues I need to communicate and coordinate with, and we do that by talking to each other - in meetings. If I was an individual contributor who did all of my work solo I might not need to attend too many meetings - but I'm not, so I don't. Rather, I'm a social person who does a lot of collaborative work and team work, and that type of activity requires meetings. I've learned to cope by blocking out periods of time on my calendar so I can concentrate and focus.
4) Longer projects, lasting impact
I used to suspect that practitioners brought in consultants to do their grunt work, and they kept the really interesting, impactful, important projects for internal teams. Now that I'm a practitioner, I know it's true. Sorry, consultants, you get the boring stuff. That's all I'm going to say.
5) Fear of losing touch
Something I truly loved about my role in consulting was the fact that I got to sample lots of different business models, and industry verticals, and toolsets, and corporate cultures. Now I am immersed - deeply, deeply immersed - in one place.
I really learned a lot from sampling that much diversity, and honestly I do miss it a bit. But my fear of losing touch with the analytics industry was, I believe, unfounded. I still have a good vantage point from which to view progress and innovation. It's a different view, though - one which I am courted by vendors and consultants rather than being treated as just another competitor.
With the breadth of expertise that I cultivated as a consultant, I can see past some of the marketing hype that comes my way as a practitioner, and I still feel as if I have a handle on where the industry is headed. Analytics practitoners are driving the adoption and use of techologies that will become commonplace in the future, so in that sense I am actually helping to lead the charge. How about that.
6) From center of the universe to subject matter expert
As a member of the leadership team at an analytics consultancy, analytics was my world. It was central to my company's business model. It was pretty much all we ever thought about, and talked about, and did.
As a practitioner, most of the people I interact with at work these days are not actually immersed in analytics. They come to my colleagues and me because we are the analytics subject matter experts. We are unique, rare, limited quantities. We understand the tools and the data and the trends of the business. We know what's going on because we have our fingers on the digital pulse of the customers.
I don't mind the fact that analysts aren't the center of the universe at my company. Analysts are respected for our knowledge and valued for our insights. We're not just bouncing around in the echo chamber of our own industry. We're contributing to something greater.
7) The role of a consultant is to make the client look good
When I was a consultant I felt that I filled the role of problem-solver. The client had a problem, they hired me, and I solved the problem. I now see it a bit differently. As a practitioner, I want my peers and superiors to think of me as a valued contributor. In short, I want to look good. I might hire a consultant to solve a problem, but really, my underlying motivation is that the consultant will help me accomplish something that will make me look good. It's that simple. And that vain.
Business rationalization of return on investment is still paramount to any consulting relationship. But now that I've filled both roles - consultant and client - I have a more thorough understanding of the forces that motivate consulting arrangements to take place and ultimately drive the perception of success on the part of the individuals who've entered into those agreements. Consultants: you are here to make your clients look good. Serve them well.
After a year's worth of hard work, I'm just beginning to see the rippling impact that my team has been able to make on the business. I've stopped feeling like a consultant masquerading as a practitioner. I've assimilated, but my roots as a consultant remain intact. I feel fortunate to understand the perspective of both roles, and I can indeed confirm that the grass is green on both sides of the fence.
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