Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Project Sinking

Doesn't look like the client wants to be swayed after all...we've been sitting around all day, waiting for developments, with the partner and the manager running in and out of secretive meetings with ever gloomier faces. Personally I'm down with a whopping cold, so just hanging out is fine with me. Can't decide whether I'd rather do that in my fake mahogany hotel room or in the neon-slash-plastic office suite though. One thing I have to say though, if this project blows up I won't be too sad. Had a first carefully noncommittal chat with staffing...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saturday Night Life

Saturday night, in the (to the regular readers of this blog) by now well-known flyover state where the project is located. After the PL ran away (the latest I heard through the grapevine is that she is about to quit altogether), after the client summoned me as her inofficial replacement to a private meeting where he asked the Big Meaning Of Project question (see Thursday's entry), and after the Manager, who is the main reason for the PL's hasty departure, got wind of that meeting and promptly scheduled another one with the entire team for Friday six p.m., it became clear very swiftly to all of us that the term 'weekend' now refers to either a time in the not-yet-so-very-distant past or in the very-very-distant future. Yup: our dear Manager, using very harsh terms and a very loud voice, advised the team to cancel all weekend plans until further notice if we cared at all about our job.

The problem is, it's really not the team's fault, I don't think, that the project is going badly. In fact, it ISN'T even going badly. It's just that a core team member ran away, which freaked out the client, and things took their evil course from there. So here we are, on a Saturday night, in the office. Wish I had brought more underwear for the week to come (remember, no convenient laundry facilities around here). The hope is, and it's really the only hope right now, that our show of dedication will sway the client. Dubious strategy, for a team of management consultants. Don't you think?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Awkward Questions

Rule of thumb for the aspiring consultant: you know that your case is in dire straits if your client requests a private meeting with you, on the occasion of which he really has just one simple question:

'Do you think this project is worth the money we are spending on it?'

Ahem. He didn't ask this in a menacing way. He just seemed to want my honest opinion. And of course, if you have half an idea of what your pitch and kickoff presentation were about, you'll have no difficulty in burying the man under an avalanche of arguments. But if you have half a brain you'll also know that in most cases, it's really not that simple. There very often IS a legitimate question as to what value management consultants can add.

In the case of this project, as I've said in the past, I think our team actually is doing something worth while. It consists in a combination of temporarily supplying additional managerial capacity and spelling out a few truths that are known within the company anyway but that nobody is in a position to defend. Problem is, neither of these things is what we are officially being paid for. We are paid for breathtaking out-of-the-box thinking, radical cutting-edge analysis, etc., etc. So what do you say?

My client's question was obviously motivated by the turmoil our project has generated of late (eloped PL and all that). So I was able to temporarily shirk the question by saying that once we are back in our regular routine, no doubt progress will continue to be made. But will it? It's not good if your PL runs away. And it's not good if your client nurtures doubts about the point of the entire enterprise. Stormy seas ahead.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Project Leader, anyone?

Oopsidaisy. All of a sudden I am getting an unexpected taste of what it is like to be project leader. Not that I am in real terms (not yet anyway - about six months to go before promotion, if I last that long and if the firm still wants me then). But since our PL fled the scene yesterday and hasn't been heard of since, and since I am the most senior team member below her, I find myself a) in charge of the more junior consultants and associates on the project, all of whom are confused about the current events b) the preferred contact of the manager, who is known to take no victims, and c) the man-in-charge as far as the client is concerned. And the client IS concerned. I would be too if a key member of my expensive consulting team simply decided to take off in a moment of crisis. So I currently find myself in the middle of a weird kind of Bermuda triangle. A couple of shark fins emerging from the choppy waters. And the night is young, and the phone is ringing, and I have to be off. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Team Crisis

Oh dear oh dear. Our PL abandoned the project today to fly back to the East Coast for a crisis meeting with the partner on the case. My guess is she'll ask to be assigned to a different project, on the grounds of unbridgeable differences in leadership between her and the manager in charge. What these differences boil down to, among other things, is that the manager is a company-wide known (insert your favourite expletive) and she has been shielding both team and client from him to the best of her abilities. Well, no more. As of today we are without a PL. And looking around me I discover that I am now the most senior team member below the manager! Which means I may have to abandon my hitherto cultivated attitude of serene detachment. As the manager told me today: 'I see you in the lead now.'

Muchas gracias. Expect future entries here to be short and sweet until further notice.

Monday, September 17, 2007

PL Sinking

Oh dear. Crisis time. Top management is not satisfied with the way our project is going. That means a brush-off for our youthful project leader, who doesn't take it lightly. The team doesn't really know what's wrong. The steering committee meeting last week went well enough, after all. And our PL has put a lot of work into convincing the client to let us continue into the implementation phase. So it's really hard to guess what the issue is. I'd imagine that applies to the PL herself. She's been fighting for composure all day. I could tell. Hers is not a fun job right now. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Spoiled Saturday

Looks like it was a bit premature of me to think that I got off lightly this weekend. You know how consultants have these nice mobile phones and/or blackberries, generously provided by the firm? It's so that they can always be reached, 24/7, regardless of what they are up to. I was in a coffee shop this morning, at about noon, meeting a few friends I hadn't seen for ever. That's not because they aren't so very good friends, and it's not because they make themselves scarce: it's because of me and my bloody job (see a variety of previous posts). So we have just gotten our lattes when the company phone rings. It's my project leader (you know, the woman I was telling you about earlier). She has the decency to apologise for the disruption: but as it turns out, our client, the guy in charge, the one who has to sell our project within the company, has been ordered to attend a meeting extraordinaire with members of the board of directors. On Monday morning, first thing. Reason's not quite clear, but it doesn't sound good. So he needs material: summaries of what we've done, successes, to do's, and so forth.

'Sorry, guys', I say as I grab my bike helmet and gulp down my drink, 'have to be off'. They can't believe it. Tell me that I can't let the firm treat me like a slave. Tell me I have to assert my independence. Tell me this is against the Geneva Convention. Yeah, I say, and am gone, heading straight for the office. Whence I have just emerged, nine hours later. One of my friends called a little while ago with an urgent question: 'Why on earth are you putting up with this?', she wants to know.