It seems to go without saying that adding value is important. As consultants, we add value through our work; otherwise, our clients wouldn’t hire us. Every day, we try to maximize our delivery according to the Statement of Work (SOW) we have in place and the business needs of our client. Value beyond the SOW is equally important and much harder to quantify. My view is that companies and people who add value beyond what’s written in the contract regularly throttle the competition.
This line of thinking led me to examine my own career – particularly since I’m coming up on the 10 year milestone as a professional consultant. How have I added value, outside of my normal duties? I came up with 6 easy things that I’ve done to Add Value to my Organization, Clients, and myself. I’d like to pass them on to you.
“You cannot pursue success; success ensues. It flows as the unintended but inevitable by–product of a life spent serving people and adding value to the world.”
— Robin S. Sharma
1. Create great documentation and keep it up to date.
As a consultant, sometimes your life feels like never-ending documentation; however, there is seems a place where documentation is lacking. As you dig through processes, write new components, onboard, or even just handle operations, you are bound to find something that isn’t documented. Sometimes, you find that the documentation is old and needs updating. Than update it. What if you don’t have access to update or add documentation? Then keep track of your thoughts in a word document and hand it off to someone that it will benefit.
My company has so much documentation that I can’t find what I need. This tells me that they are in dire need of quick-guides. Quick-guides are role, area, or task oriented lists of links to documentation. Often, the links will have a short description of what each link contains. These are really useful to operations, new hires, non-technical staff, and future consultants.
I was a sub-contractor to major government integrator. My role was to become the subject matter expert for a COTS product that was going to roll out to the enterprise. As part of this task, I developed the installation and basic maintenance documentation. This was part of the task. However, I also documented all my day-to-day actions with the product outside of normal operational duties. This included my approach to installation, how I modeled issues locally, a list of common errors and how to diagnose/fix them, common misconceptions about the product, and points of contact for the product and its supporting systems.
When I eventually left the project, I was asked to remain on call as an external consultant. I never received a call. Later, I talked to my contacts back on the project, and they said that the documentation was so useful that they never needed to call me. I had documented myself out of additional work. I might not have capitalized on additional side work, but I now I have contacts that will always find work for me if I need it in the future.
2. Keep meeting minutes.
Have you ever been in a meeting and someone asked the group to take the meeting minutes? There’s usually an awkward silence until someone reluctantly says, “Ok, I’ll do it.” Imagine the impression you’ll make if you immediately say in a cheerful tone, “I’ll do it”. Contrary to popular belief, it is not hard. All you need to do is take note of attendance (if reasonable), the topics discussed, and actions given. Beyond just producing a document, you remain engaged, learn the issues, and meet the people involved.
What if organization doesn’t take meeting minutes? Take them anyway, and send out the report via an email to the participants. Note: be reasonable about when you do this. This action might make sense during planning or a review, but hardly makes sense during a morning stand up.
I was part of some initial meetings that were intended to get the project started with a new COTS product. Halfway through the meeting, I realized that no one was taking minutes. My previous employer used to ask me to “volunteer to take minutes,” so I naturally started to take minutes along with my notes. A week later, some action items where not getting done. My manager brought this to me saying that he knew the vendor was on the hook for something, but couldn’t remember what the action was. I later sent my minutes out to the meeting’s email distribution list and called out the actions that were to be taken. Within a week, the vendor delivered their actions. Minutes add references and accountability to a meeting.
3. Make your content useful and usable.
Generating usable content for your client and employer is almost always welcome. How to do this? Offer to write a blog/article for their website or community site. Write a blog about how to use, set up, or maintain their product. A lot of product organizations have content sites that their internal staff fills with how-tos. Help them out and offer to write a how-to on some finding or use of the product/service.
- But I’m terrible writer. This is a chance to get better. Ask a supervisor, friend, or an English major to proof your material.
- But I don’t have time. Write 10 sentences a day. In a workweek, you will have written 50 sentences; in a work month, 200 sentences. Don’t be afraid to rewrite the sentences or throw away old sentences and ideas
- But I don’t know what to write about.
- What have you been doing over the engagement?
- Write about what you have observed.
- Ask a mentor or coworker for some help on brainstorming topics.
- Write about the positive thing you’ve observed.
Over the years I’ve written a handful of blogs, wikis, and other content for my employers. While I’m sure that my blogs and articles have helped people over the years, it has helped my own personal development more. I graduated college, so I can write, but my composition, grammar, and spelling have always been an atrocious weakness. By consistently writing (and practicing), all of these areas have improved. This has helped me draft emails and deliverable documentation more efficiently and effectively. Writing is a key skill for any consultant, and practice makes perfect.
“Use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them. You want to be adding value as you think about projects and people, not simply reminding yourself they exist.”
— David Allen
4. Be a mentor. It will help your company and pay you back many times over.
Mentoring a junior staff can be difficult. Some may not want mentorship; others may want it, but feel to awkward to ask. It’s just weird to go to someone and say “I’m your mentor,” but you can let it happen organically. Eventually, you will become a subject expert in some area. People will come to you and ask you about that subject. Don’t just give them the answer, but explain why. Explain your thought process for achieving the result.
What if I’m junior? Allow yourself to be mentored. Observe how your mentors teach and act. Think about why they are suggesting something and how they approach things. If you do this, you will be more ready to help someone else in the future.
Note: Offering information is great, but don’t be forceful. This can come off as belittling. Be especially careful if you are on a client site.
Over time, I’ve been professionally mentored and mentored staff. It has been both rewarding and educational. As a development lead on a large government project, I often worked with the test team to teach them the application, including how to troubleshoot, write good bug reports, and work effectively with developers. In one situation, I started to become friends with a mid-level tester, who wanted to start automating his tasks, but had little to no coding experience. I began to work with him on how to approach learning a new language – a language that I had not previously learned. It caused me to sit down and think about how I would approach learning this language.
- Would I buy a book?
- How would I find answers?
- How would I stay motivated?
The answer to all these questions helped me streamline my own learning process and really understand a lot about myself. I also worked to keep him accountable with his goal. I would check in with him weekly tand offer suggestions.
5. Volunteer to do the extra thing.
Volunteering to help out your client’s or organization’s cause is a sure fire way to endear yourself to them. All things being equal between you and your competition, the person/organization that shows up and helps out will more likely to win out in the future. Here are some ways to volunteer:
- If your client has a volunteer program, offer to show up to help out
- Volunteer to arrange an happy hour after work
- Volunteer to do a brown bag presentation on your work
- Organize or gather a group of people to attend a networking events
- Volunteer to bring coffee and/doughnuts to an early meeting. (Everyone likes free food)
My first job out of college, I was asked to be the event coordinator for the US offices. As background, we had two US offices with 30 employees. Once a month, we’d have a get together for the regional employees and, once a year, we’d have a team-building event for both offices. Here’s what event coordination entailed:
- Finding an appropriate time for both offices to meet
- Finding an activity
- Arranging a company dinner
- Making a proposal to the office managers with a budget
- Work with the HQ in the UK to arrange travel for staff and their spouses
Doing this work benefited both the company and me. The company got someone to arrange and coordinate activities. I benefited by:
- Getting face time with upper level management
- Learning to organize and set up logistics
- Learning to manage a budget
- Meeting all the staff, especially staff I didn’t see everyday
We all groan a bit at having to do extra work, but you should look at extra work in a positive light. It will not only add value to the requester, but to your own development.
6. Build internal tools that you and your colleagues can use.
Internal tools are one of my favorites. As you work on a project, you will find areas that can be automated, scripted, or optimized. These tools will become valuable to you. They will likely be valuable to other people in your company and your client, too. Examples of good internal tools include:
- Environment setup scripts
- Test scripts
- Health check scripts
- HTML pages that contain links to the environments and systems
- Install scripts and tools
- Admin automation tools and scripts
On a large-scale government project, we had major problems keeping all the web links to the various environments straight. We had multiple admin consoles, UI entry points, servers, and database tools. This was a problem, because we didn’t have any internal collaboration tools and we were unlikely to get any. Most people would bookmark the links; however, if a tester or developer needed to work in a new system or got a new computer, they would struggle to find all the links.
I developed a simple tabbed web page that organized all the links by environment (Dev, Test, SWIT, SIT, UAT). I had access to a dev server where I would deploy the development instance of our COTS product. I quietly slipped this HTML page into that server and began to share the links with my team. Before long, the entire project (250+ people) began using it. I was getting requests from project leads to augment the site with tools and links that I didn’t know existed. Despite this tool not being sanctioned and being homegrown for a team, it did bubble up to the upper level of project management and was still being used and maintained a year after I left.
It should be noted that something like this would not work in all situations. I do not recommend sneaking things in to official builds. Please use your best judgment when trying something like this.
As consultants and employees, we should all strive to add value to our organizations and clients to fullest of our emotional, mental, and physical abilities. Look for ways where you can add out-of-scope value. The extra value added will really help your stakeholders, improve the state of your business, and add to your personal development. So be creative, be genuine, and add value.
Disclaimer: I do not advocate the use of all these methods in all situations. You must be judicious, creative, and genuine in your efforts. Also, when these things fall out of scope, DO NOT bill for them. Please do not arrange a happy hour, and then bill the client for the happy hour.