When I was asked to be on-site for a month at a client, the excitement grew as I began preparations for my upcoming trip to Los Angeles, California. As a NetSuite Consultant, on-site trips tend to range from a couple of days to two weeks at most; therefore, I knew that one month would be challenging but a great opportunity to do all those things I was never able to because of time constraints.
I took my flight from Vancouver on a Thursday evening and arrived at the client’s office in Los Angeles on Friday morning, excited to meet the team I would spend the next month working alongside. The first days at an on-site can be overwhelming: greeting new faces, remembering names and roles, and becoming familiar with the company’s business model is not for the faint of heart. You must come prepared, do your homework, get as much information from the company and their operations prior to your arrival, and make sure to study it. There is nothing worse than coming unprepared.
30 days later, here are my biggest takeaways which have meaning not just for my fellow consultants, but for anyone who’s working to successfully lead a team through a huge project like an ERP implementation:
Communication is key
Due to NetSuite’s cloud flexibility, consultants are no longer required to meet with clients in person during the duration of their projects. You can work with a client for years without ever knowing how they look like in person, only knowing them from voice and email exchanges.
When you are on-site with a client, you no longer have the option of muting your phone line during a call or multitasking between projects. You are expected to give your undivided attention to your new team. Gadgets such as voice recorders and digital recording pens can be extremely effective aids to help you stay on track with your meetings throughout the day.
Presentation is a crucial component of effective communication. If available to you, inquire about the office’s dress code before your arrival and pack accordingly; when in doubt, go with business professional. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. If you are working for a consulting firm, then keep in mind that you represent your organization, so you want to make the effort, no matter what day of the week it is.
Know your audience
During my stay at the client, I had the privilege of working with different departments and teams, my days never followed a strict schedule. One day I could be meeting with the VP Finance, a couple of hours later with the Controllers, a day after with the System Administrator, the week after with the AR and AP team, and so on. Despite my business background, I tend to be more of a technical person so my biggest challenge was to “take my programmer hat off and talk accounting, the language of business” as another client jokingly used to say to me.
Remember, the AR Manager does not want to know about the bug in the code that is stopping the customer statements to be generated. They want to know when the issue will be fixed and what they can do in the mean time. The System Administrator on the other hand might be interested in knowing this, so put your technical jargon inside an imaginary box and resist opening it until you have found the right audience for it.
Also, be sure to learn the role of each employee with which you work (and don’t be afraid to carry around your notes reminding you of where everyone fits!). Setup brief meetings with them, learn about their daily tasks, get to know them, and develop a strategy to communicate with them. You definitely do not want to find out in the middle of the development cycle that your requirements are wrong. When in doubt, ask; there is no such thing as a wrong question.
Draw a line in your expectations
Often times when meeting new people, we want to make good impressions and avoid disappointments at all costs. Disappointment is part of life and you ought to acknowledge it and create an action plan to deal with it if crosses your way. It is OK not to have all the answers, if you are not sure, take a deep breath and then say you will get back to them. Giving a wrong answer can be more catastrophic than many realize, especially if someone depends on that wrong answer. Try to remember you are consulting, you are advising the stakeholders of a business, an inanimate entity.
Most importantly, do not promise more than you can deliver or set unrealistic expectations and deadlines just because you want to make a good impression. Ever heard of the WOW Effect? Always give yourself plenty of time to do your work and take into account external and internal factors that may get in your way.
Going on-site is always a learning experience, even to the most experienced consultants. Not only will you get the chance to see the work behind the scenes of combining the power of NetSuite’s Cloud ERP system and the human resources that keep operations running, but you will also have the privilege of being part of creating that work behind the scenes.
As consultants, we often act as a bridge between information technology and end-users. We automate processes to make daily life easier and to make business operations run more effectively. We ought to bring departments together, integrate systems, and maximize the synergies, all for the purpose of fully leveraging the capabilities that an ERP system offers: the centralization of information to maximize profit, increase performance, and improve organizational effectiveness.