Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Summer "Classes"

Dale Jackson | Murika

As my Rwandan summer winds down, I must say that I greatly benefited from a suitcase full of books (and a love of reading and self-education) that I lugged along. Looking back, the most referenced books.

First it was the two Rwanda books to appreciate the bigger context of my summer project:
1. We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with our Families
2. A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It

Then it was a very handy MBA-core-classes-in-one-small-book (coupled with my 1st year Ross notes) for developing the curriculum for the business training:
3. The Ten-Day MBA (3rd Edition)

Naturally, the Bradt travel guide:
4. Rwanda (4th Edition)

Then CK Prahalad's groundbreaking research helped to inform the for-profit business context in one of the poorest countries on Earth (an especially valued exercise to be able to digest and apply his thinking in the field, seeing how one of my prized possessions was a seat in his class this fall):
5. The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits (Revised Edition)

Finally for consulting best practices, it has been the "consultant's bible" as my trusty sidekick to help structure my summer, gain satisfactory management and employee buy-in, pace my workload, and avoid (or learn to get out of) common pitfalls:
6. Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used

The last book lays out many of the principles used in the Ross MAP program, and thus my Microsoft MAP project was also a good reference. I'll review my steps here.

1. Contracting: after some very preliminary data collection and problem identification, began the summer with a Letter of Engagement, an informal contract with management that incorporates our MUTUAL needs and wants up front.

Key Elements for Letter of Engagement:
• clearly worded project motivation (overall objective in one sentence, if possible)
• clearly defined project scope (boundaries of analysis undertaken to reach objective)
• consultant’s role in project (how you want to work with client)
• resources and access needed (data, access to key stakeholders/employees, expenses, etc)
• projected but as detailed as possible timeline of work phases (week by week in this case)
• expected project deliverables
• confidentiality agreement (who will—and will not—get deliverables)

2. Further Data Collection

3. Preliminary Management Presentation: at this point, still very early in the project, the general manager was leaving for an extended summer break in the States. It is not optimal for effective long term implementation for a consultant to complete a project without very close collaboration from management, but in this case, it did allow me a unique opportunity—to shift from the consultant role to the client role (I was literally handed full general manager responsibilities) to implement my own recommendations. Lots of learning!

Anyway, less than two weeks into a 12 week project I was already presenting a 20 slide powerpoint of key findings, recommendations, and implementation plan. While things shifted a bit over time, this exercise helped me grapple with the big questions and set direction from the beginning. I also was able to modify the powerpoint and present it to a number of key employees early on.

4. Implementation: the key here was to involve everyone as much as possible in determining and implementing the final solutions. I learned some key lessons—in the earlier points, I got ahead of myself a bit, in that it may not have been best to “figure everything out” up front and make “brilliant” suggestions to too many people. Everyone nods enthusiastically and says that sounds amazing, but are then not very invested to carry it out themselves. In a number of areas we needed to roll back ideas and start with what employees really need and want for their day-to-day success, let them explore solutions, and then support them to lead the change.

Some Key Learning in Implementation:

• Early planning and detailed structuring of project was crucial to quickly grasp a management “bird’s eye” view, but take care not to usurp others’ role
• Maintain close collaboration with key employees (emphasis on preparing PEOPLE to lead change rather than overfocus on developing an impressive stack of shelf-worthy data- and process-focused deliverables)
• Keep control and responsibilities between consultant and client at 50/50 as much as possible
• Effective staff meetings (clear agenda, everyone participating, mutual atmosphere)
• Lead change by example and trust rather than reports or directives
• Teach clients to solve problems themselves in the future

I’m now moving into the wrap-up phase with about two weeks to go. I expect my deliverables to be as follows.

• Progress report
• Immediate to-do list
• Long term to-do list
• Instruction manuals/guides
• Further recommendations/areas to research
• Miscellaneous management reports as requested

I’ll report back, more related to our specific organizational design accomplishments and various advances made/trends seen in the solar area, and business in general, in Rwanda.

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