Behind the Scenes - First Days At a Client

I’ve arrived at the client, and after early conversations with various buyers and leaders, I’m now on the ground and ready to start my engagement. Though, what am I thinking so far, and what steps am I about to take?

I’ll give an example. In this scenario, I’ve been asked to help some teams become more agile. The engagement is three months, and the team is critical to company success. They are often required to hit demanding deadlines often within hours, or there is business disruption.

It’s Not What They Say It Is

The first thing I’m thinking of is that what I’ve been told so far is part of the story. I don’t know anything about the people I’m working with yet, but that will come soon. I know that when my client asked me to help their team go agile, I only got part of that story, and without the rest, I may start wasting people’s time.

So, I schedule meetings with the leaders who contacted me, and I speak with them individually. I ask questions like.

  • When three months have passed, and you get my final invoice, what would have made this time worthwhile for you?
  • What have you tried so far in helping these teams?
  • What types of things or changes are off-limits?
  • What aren’t you telling me?
  • How would you like me to keep you up-to-date going forward?
  • What can we both agree to look at that will indicate things are successful?
  • What will make this fail?

I ask my questions, be quiet, and listen. I make notes as they talk and ask more questions to get a complete picture of what they mean. These answers become a part of the foundation I’ll use working with them in the future.

I don’t expect the answers I get to align or match. If they are incompatible, however, I’ll address that in a meeting. Otherwise, I consider it acceptable that people have different needs and expectations. My job is to know them and be the expert with all of that in my head.

The Front Lines

Now I need to know about the groups I’ve been sent to help. I will typically do this in two parts. First, I’ll observe for a week or two how things are going. During this time, I’m looking at.

  • Interaction styles
  • Stress levels
  • Information flow
  • Collaborative style
  • Passionate and passive people
  • Interruptions

There are other things too, but looking at these things gives me an idea of how much I can introduce before it is too much for people to handle. It also shows me places where I can provide relief to the team.

The second thing I’m doing is meeting with the team and individually. With the group, I keep it to an introduction built around a sincere expression as to what I’m there for and what I’m not. I lay it all out there for them. I let them tell me what they think. I ask them what they want too.

When I meet individually, it is much like the above meeting with leaders, but I’m also asking about these people’s career and team interactions. I want to know why they’re here and where they want to go. I want to know who they work well with and who they can’t seem to get along with.

Quick Win First

I know what the leaders want from me, I know what the team wants and how they’re jiving, now its time to get moving. All my conversations so far yield a list of small changes that can provide quick relief. The leaders may not care, but immediate relief is an important step.

If I go directly at the big “Make them agile” idea, I’ll create a lot of disruption to a group that is getting by just fine. They are likely to reject such a broad and nebulous set of changes, especially when they are business-critical. I need to show them I can improve what they are already doing and use that as a platform for future changes.

Often areas that provide quick relief are:

  • Visualizing work
  • Handoffs between teammates
  • Having people work together instead of alone
  • Fixing various “Agile” meetings

I say quick because everyone knows the problem, fixes require almost no permissions or tools or building to accomplish, and the relief is immediate.

Feedback Network

If it isn’t obvious, I’ve set up personal relationships with almost everyone involved with my engagement. I do this so that as I investigate and suggest changes, two things happen. First, these people will often explain and endorse me if my moves seem confusing to someone outside. Second, I can sense what impact I’m having and especially if I’m pushing too hard. That feedback is how I know when to slow down, break things apart, change course, and so on.

Anyway, that’s a little bit behind the scenes of what my first two weeks are at a client. I hope you found it helpful, and if it was, let me know what you’d like me to write about next!