If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, then listening is worth $500,000
The value of listening in your consulting strategy
In the late spring of 2002, I took a consulting assignment to help a company, who provided parts to Ford Motor company’s assembly line. Little did I know that this project would soon show me the value of listening in my consulting strategy. Ford told my company that after shut-down (a standard yearly time that Ford would shut down their line to make adjustments for the new model year), they would need to follow a new process that required a 2-hour “just-in-time” ordering process. Just-In-Time ordering is the process of providing an “order” in 2 hours or less by loading a semi-truck, with the parts, in the same order that each vehicle was coming down the assembly-line.
My company, in preparation for the upcoming change, hired a set of programmers to create a system that would:
- Receive orders from Ford Motor Company over a 2400 baud modem…think AOL or the Matrix
- Create a label for each part. Then, print the label in the correct order to load a truck with a set number of pallets.
- The system needed an option to reprint as well.
- All of the above would require checks and balances. The use of scanners verified the placement of each part on the pallets.
The shut-down happens in July. In May, the programmers were deported back to their country of origin…and they took the code with them.
I came into the assignment and given 6 weeks to reproduce the entire program. I learned a valuable lesson during that consulting “gig”, one that sticks with me today and every day that I work with a client.
Listen, listen, listen and when you are done listening, ask questions so that you can listen more.
How did the value of listening play into this consulting strategy? Well….
In 6 weeks I designed, developed and tested a solution that was ready for production. Ford would always end “shut-down” on a Sunday night shift that started at 7pm. So, on the last Sunday in July, the project was ready, and Ford was about to start ordering products. At 6:30pm, some managers said to me, “in the rush of all we were doing, did we tell you, that, if we cause Ford to stop their assembly-line, we will be fined $500,000 every 30 minutes that the line is stopped?” I said, “No, that detail seemed to be left out during our conversations”. (insert freaked out face here) Still, I was confident in what I had produced. So, while that statement brought some gravity to what I was doing, I was not afraid.
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However, 5 minutes later at 6:35pm, the same mangers then asked, “did we tell you about this key component of the project and how this data field HAS to be in the system?” To which I said, “no, you never told me about this field during the discovery/design phase and that data field is nowhere in the project right now”.
I just found out the product I created would not work correctly at 7pm and therefore would instantly shut down the assembly line. Now, with 25 minutes before start-up…I was more than scared. The company that I was trying to help, that was in such a dire need after their programmers were deported, was about to fail.
All for one and one for all
It is important that you read that last sentence correctly. I was not about to fail, the managers who failed to give me the right requirements were not about to fail. Ford did not see me or my manager or any single person, they would see that the company was stopping the line and so the company was about to fail.
But there was no time to dwell on the “what-ifs”, I had to start fixing the code. I began frantically adding this new field and, as you can imagine, breaking every rule for good programming etiquette in the process. There was no code review, no UAT, and no looking back. Seven o’clock came, I watched the monitors to see if an order had come across the screen yet…nothing. I continued to fix and correct. 7:10pm, no orders yet….7:15pm, still no orders. By 7:20pm, I was able to add the field, make the code adjustments and push the new code to production. The first order came across the monitors at 7:30pm…I made it. At 7pm, come to find out, Ford issued a mandatory 30-minute safety training session. That safety training saved my company $500,000.
The Ideal Consultant
Hi, my name is Mike and I have been a consultant in various ways for almost 28 years. Welcome to my blog on being an “ideal consultant”. The goal of this blog is to draw from my experiences in consulting to help you build a strategy for what good consulting looks like. I’ll use stories of my failures and hopefully some of my successes to help you understand the key components of being an “ideal consultant”.
So, what is an “ideal consultant”. Well, to be concise: “An ideal consultant strives to understand their client, their client’s problem and their client’s industry in order to help their client make the biggest impact.”
For now, though, let me encourage you, when starting a new “gig” with a client, the value of listening in your consulting strategy is key. Listen more than you talk. And when you are done listening, make sure to ask some pointed questions so you can listen more…one question that comes to mind is, “is there anything you are forgetting to tell me”!