HTEC: One Consultants’ Way of Working

My Two Cents

Disclaimer! I want to start off by saying:

This is, by no means, a definitive way of working as a consultant. Everything I am about to say in this article is subjective and based on my own personal experience.

In my daily life, I always prefer to have a point of reference. I like to relate things that I do on a daily basis in a professional capacity, to things I do on a daily basis in a non-professional capacity. I will give you an example. I have always compared writing unit tests to pizza dough:

If you don’t give it the time it needs, it won’t cover everything.

That’s just one, very simple example I use to remind myself that as I code, I have to remember to give some time to testing if I want to have good test coverage.

For this article, I will be introducing a way of working that is much more overarching and generalized. It helps me have clear guidelines on how I should work as a consultant, and it also helps keep me organized. So, without further ado, I present HTEC, or in other words, How To Eat Cereal.

For Those Who Can’t Cereal

So as you might have picked up, my point of reference to become a better consultant is based on a very specific order to which I eat cereal. First off, without any intention of sounding condescending, I will be explaining how to make a bowl of cereal. I am very well-aware that 99% of people reading this know how to make one, but I want to present a universal method to making a bowl of cereal so that we are all on the same page. Deal? Deal.

1- Just like anything, wanting to eat cereal starts off with an idea. One similar to “Hey, I would love to eat some cereal right now”

2- You then proceed to open your cupboard, checking if all the things you need are there. If cereal.ingredients.isPresent() then you can skip to step 5

3- If you lack the ingredients, you have to check your schedule to see when you are free to go to the supermarket and buy the ingredients.

4- Now, this is the most important part. You have finally found time to go to the supermarket, but what cereal are you going to buy? What brand of milk? Or even what type of milk? How much money do you have? How much money does all of this cost? All these questions waiting to be answered by a very hungry stomach and impulsive spending habits, especially when it comes to something as important as cereal

5- You answered all these questions. Now, you have everything and you are back home. But you are faced with one very sensitive debate. A controversy as old as time. Does milk go first? Or does the cereal go first?

6- After a 13-day duel with your friends on who is right about step 5. You finally have your bowls of cereal and you get to actually start enjoying them

7- Last but not least, the cleaning part. It should not be too troublesome, but it is a necessity nonetheless.

You are going to read this and wonder:

Sherief, are you just hungry? Like, are you okay? Is this still talking about consultancy?

And my answer is yes! Let me explain how I use these seven rules of HTEC, to help me become a better consultant!

Decoding The Cereal Numbers

So in this part, I am going to be diving deep into the previous points I described. I am going to map these points with a real-life timeline that most consultants face on a daily basis. Buckle up, here we go!

Cereal Number 1: Cereal Cravings (Idea Conception)

If we think about this thought more conceptually, we can extrapolate the craving for cereal, into having an idea. And this is how every consultancy cycle begins. A client you work with has conceptualized an idea and would like to go ahead and start working on it. This is where we, as consultants, appear in the picture.

Cereal Number 2: Ingredient Check (Situation Breakdown)

So far so good. You have a vision by the client that will help guide the way, and now its time to breakdown the situation and check the feasibility. As consultants, we go to the client with the intention of, not just implementing, but implementing it in the best way possible. The first thing to do in this feasibility analysis is to check whether or not you have all the components you need to be able to fulfill the clients' vision. This can be answered in three simple questions:

  • What do we need?
  • What do we have?
  • What are we missing?

When these questions are answered, everyone is ready to move to the next step.

Cereal Number 3: Supermarket Run (Initial Planning)

Now that you have an idea of what you need, its time to go ahead and start the planning to work towards the answers to these three questions. That planning could be in the form of:

  • Architecture Sessions
  • Client Sessions
  • Team Events

All of this would give you some extra clarity on what technology is needed, what vision the client has, and better team chemistry where you can fully understand how the team operates.

Cereal Number 4: Endless Options (Resource Prioritization)

You now have everything planned. But during all these planned events, you realize that many ideas were brought up. These different opinions, if not filtered, could be very overwhelming. So, as consultants, we do what we do best, help the client reach their full potential. We want to be able to prioritize these ideas so that full potential could actually be reached. We start filtering them through an initial round:

  • If there is a budget (there will be one), what is that budget?
  • What are some specific processes within the organization that needs to be followed?
  • Would there be additional resources needed? Whether these resources be: Techincal team members, non-technical team members (PO, Scrum Master, etc.), knowledge?

These are just examples of the type of questions that could help you filter out, and help prioritize the client's needs. By aligning the vision the client has, with the knowledge that we as consultants bring to them (Tech knowledge, etc.) we are able to reach an attainable conclusion for the project

Cereal Number 5: Who’s Right? (Preference Analysis)

But, life is not always peachy. With everyone having hashed out all the overarching details, some differences will occur when everyone is discussing the nitty-gritty final touches. Each person’s preference will somewhat try to overpower others’, most of the time, unintentionally. So, what will you go with? Will you put the milk in the bowl before the cereal? Or will you put the cereal first, just like you are used to? One word. Compromise. As a consultant, this is a vital part of the job. I have had to sometimes compromise on one way of doing something, for another way of doing it, just to keep the team morale high. But don’t get me wrong, you can only compromise when both approaches are RIGHT but just differ in how they are done. If there are two approaches, one is right, the other is wrong, it is your job to push for the correct way of doing things, but be smart about how you push for it. Example time:

  • You can compromise on putting milk first before the cereal
  • You can compromise on the milk to cereal ratio every once in a while
  • But you CANNOT compromise on substituting milk with soda for example, or at least I wouldn’t compromise on that.

Cereal Number 6: Cereal Status: Done (Task Completion)

After a back and forth on all the previous points, you have finally reached the point where you are done with a specific portion of the work, aka, your cereal bowl. As a wise man once said:

Work hard, play hard

Take a moment and let this achievement soak in. Enjoy that cereal! No matter how big or small the task was, you have to recognize your teams’ work and effort, and especially your own effort. This part is as important as completing the task itself. If you do not stop and smell the roses every now and then, you will lose a lot of morale and willingness to keep producing quality work. You can’t be blamed either, you are just completely mentally drained. Admiring your work does not have to be something grandiose. You can simply do something as little as getting a box of chocolates the next day for the team, or if the achievement is bigger, you can all go out and have dinner together. Not only does this keep the morale high, but it also encourages team bonding and increases team chemistry.

Cereal Number 7: Squeaky Clean Dishes (Smooth Consultancy)

Last but not least, what I like to call Smooth Consultancy. This is an on-going notion the moment you step into the project until the moment you walk out of that door for the last time. Let me summarize what smooth consultancy is:

  • Your Code is a Temple: There are times when you just have to finish something and have it working because you have deadlines to meet. But that does not mean you should completely abandon a piece of code that was written badly. One of the worst things you can give your team is technical debt. It’s okay to pile up some technical debt every now and then, but make sure to pay off that debt eventually. Treat your code good, and it will return the favor by not breaking.
  • Documentation, Documentation, Documentation: I mean, I know. You are probably thinking:

Really, Sherief? That’s your golden advice?

But honestly, you’d be surprised. But the main thing I mean by documentation here is not just inline documentation in your code, but more along the lines of knowledge documentation. If you are the person responsible for a specific task involving specific technologies, document all the knowledge you have on these tasks. You would not believe how beneficial this is down the road, towards the end of the project.

  • Offboarding Like a King: The same way people put in a lot of effort to onboard you to a project (I really hope they did), you should return the favor with a proper offboarding for either the existing team or the person coming in to take over your roles. A proper offboarding would include: A hefty knowledge sharing session with the things you know in detail, all the documentation clearly formatted in a central repo (Git, Confluence, etc.), and finally, a neat and clean wrapping up of all the things you have to get done before you leave. If you do all that, you can then peacefully fly off into the sunset, knowing that your team is in safe hands.

Now that, is what smooth consultancy is.

What Do YOU think of HTEC?

I will try to keep this ending sweet and short, there has been a lot of information thrown your way.

Now that you have seen my very eccentric way of working, you have had the chance to take a sneak peek on how my brain works. I map two very different tasks, one that is mundane and the other, my job, that quite literally gives me the means to do the previously mentioned mundane task, and this is how I get things done. Not just that, but this is how I work, how I organize my thoughts, how I navigate through many different tasks that I might not be initially comfortable with, and most importantly, how I strive to be a better professional in the field of consultancy.

So, did you already recognize any of the above-mentioned advice? Are there things that you already do? If not, are there things that you are willing to incorporate, and try out, in your daily professional life to possibly help your career? But the question of the day is, do you see yourself using the same method I used for HTEC, to come up with your own way of working? These are all questions I would love the answer to!

Thank you for enduring all the way to the end, I know that this topic is not on rhythm with what I have been putting out lately, but I thought that it’s something that you all would find interesting. So, I hope you enjoyed, and see you all in my next blog!

Software Engineer at Blue Harvest

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