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by Vault Consulting Editors | June 02, 2009


Part I: The Carrot and the Stick

You got the call late Friday afternoon: good news, a new project! You showered and shaved, because you were beginning to look like a cross between a Geico commercial and Cousin Eddie. Now you're in a smelly taxi at 5 am Monday morning, trying to beat traffic to O'Hare to be at the client in who-knows-whereville just shy of 11 am. While you're waiting in the Premier security line, your thoughts race off ahead of you with newfound purpose and anxious curiosity.

Without fail, you will hear two things about your assignment (possibly before you even arrive). The first is that X person (partner, project manager, etc.) is expecting you to "hit the ground running." It is often mentioned just before or after that person tells you about other team members who have been or might be "rolled off." One could frame this positively as a challenge or motivation, and it is, but it is also a threat. Rolling off a project is what one does naturally at some point in time; consultants must leave eventually, that's the whole idea. However, in this context, it means doing so prematurely or letting you expire without getting an extension. It should be noted that if the project is not a good one for you, for whatever reason, this could be a blessing in disguise (albeit not one without some negative ramifications for your career).

The second emphasized communication you will always hear is some version of a "carrot." For example, it might not be a great position, but it might be said once you are on a project it is easier to roll in to other roles. As a new consultant, this situation is highly probable, and could quite possibly work out nicely. Joining a project early on and meeting all the contacts really facilitates staffing later on. I have used this to my advantage once, coming on to the PMO (Project Management Organization) team and then swinging to several functional roles. A PMO role can be part secretary, part financial management and part project management. I will speak more of this type of role in an upcoming post. However, this carrot should be taken with a coarse grain of Morton's kosher salt. A temporary role is fine, but do not lose sight of your goals and let them be defined for you.

Try not to let anyone get you worked up with these parroted Machiavellian moves. Stay cautiously optimistic. Welcome to the project—it honestly could be a great opportunity for you.

- Taylor O'Neal is a supply chain consultant for a major consulting firm. He graduated from Miami University School of Business in 2005 and Indiana University's Kelley Masters of Information Systems program in 2006.


Filed Under: Consulting