Sharing My Journey
In my journey into consulting, starting in 2015 and then getting a re-boot in 2018, the most common message I get on LinkedIn is from aspiring consultants, people very much like myself who don't 100% love their work situation and want to make a massive change, to leave the cubicle and get out into the world as a consultant.
When I think about what I can share with the world, to contribute, this is one area where I have some first-hand knowledge - not just theories but hard earned experiences of trying things, failing, trying other things and eventually having some big success.
So I'm going to write a series of blog posts on this subject that will eventually turn into a video course and maybe a live in-person training. Organizations the world over would benefit from an army of skilled, high energy analytics consultants armed with the best tools and frameworks for unraveling the measurement messes that most companies endure as the status quo.
A Life of Certainty is a Boring Life
Do you agree? Your unfair advantage is that you're willing to do what it takes to escape the gravitational pull of a safe situation, to instead chase an adventure with greater financial and emotional rewards. But this great adventure isn't for everyone.
There are six human needs, one of which is certainty - if you're someone that places certainty at the top of your list of needs then you're probably not a good candidate for consulting work even in the comfortable cradle of working for a consulting company.
Take the test here to find out how you prioritize your needs: SIX HUMAN NEEDS
Doing the Basics Well
If you are interested in taking the leap into consulting there are three areas you must get figured out.
The first is WHY. Why are you interested in leaving the cozy cubicle of certainty for a life of uncertainty, significance, and contribution? I urge you to get to know yourself and to begin articulating the person you will become, the pleasures you will experience, and the pains you will avoid if you move in a new direction. A strong, emotional WHY creates the energy that drives the entire process of human transformation. Get out a piece of paper and write it down now.
The second is WHAT. What compelling future are you moving toward. Stop wasting energy complaining about your current situation and get your head pointed in the direction you want to go. Create a compelling future that is worth getting out of bed in the morning ready to own the day. Start with 1 year goals and work them down to what you need to do this quarter, this month, this week, today as you move toward a clear outcome. Focus on a clear WHAT unconsciously leads our mind toward our goals. Write it down now.
The third is HOW. How will you get from where you are today to where you want to be? Start with a 1 year goal and break it down into what you can do this quarter, this month, this week today. You will fight overwhelm by making a little bit of progress everyday. You will fight frustration by realizing that there is no failure, only strategies that work and strategies that don't, and learning in between. Speed up your learning by modeling those who are already successful - surround yourself with the words, emotions, and meanings of the people you want to become. HOW you get from here to there seems like the hard part, but with a strong, emotional WHY and a compelling WHAT you'll have the energy and vision to make it work.
Most of the questions that float around on LinkedIn around consulting are about the HOW -- Taxes, health insurance, acquiring clients. The short answer to these is 1) pay them, 2) buy it, and 3) go out and listen to people talk about their problems. A lot of what I'm going to write about over the next few months concerns the HOW of starting an analytics consulting business, but know that the HOW is the least important when it comes to your success.
Your strong, emotional WHY and your compelling WHAT will be the things that make you successful in every area of your life, especially when you go out on the great adventure of starting a consulting business. Sign up for my email newsletter to follow along as I drop some knowledge.
I had a really nice conversation with Kellan Danielson earlier this week. Kellan is right at the nerve center at PowerPivotPro, helping navigate the next, best way to deliver analytics. When we talk, we tend to talk about what's going on in the BI market, what's working for people and what's not. This week we got on the topic of Standard Work.
I've had this Standard Work idea on my mind ever since Tom Phelan pointed me toward Toyota Kata, and unprompted Kellan brought it up. Let me see if I can do the idea any more justice than the above picture does.
Standard Work is an organization's best, current understanding of the way to run a process.
Maybe it's best if I run through a situation that I've experienced many times, to highlight the need and benefits of adopting standard work.
Publishing a Power BI File is Simple Right?
The Scenario. What's the right way to publish (and share) a Power BI file on the Power BI Service? This scenario is in the context of a team of people working on developing and sharing Power BI in a large organization. Here are a few of the things that need to be figured out.
Take a deep breath and try to read all of this in one breath ... (breath) ...
Where are the .pbix files saved (do we use OneDrive or not, SharePoint?), do we do a core/thin approach, do we publish to personal workspace/analytics team workspace/user workspace, how do we name the reports, how do we add sources to our gateway (who's managing the gateway?), should the dataset go on Power BI premium or regular, what are our sharing policies (Are they aligned with IT), is row-level security required, how do we determine the best refresh schedule, how do we monitor refreshes, how do people become aware of and start using the reports (do we have a push or pull plan), do we need to setup alerts, how do we monitor adoption, should we develop an app/content pack, do all the right people have licenses, are the reports mobile optimized (do they need to be?), do all of the visuals that worked on my Desktop work in the Service, should Q&A be turned on (and have I optimized Q&A), etc.
Lots of Questions, Tip of the Iceberg
For everyone who's been following the Power BI and Power Pivot story closely, you might notice there's not single mention of DAX, Data Modeling, or M in all of that. Before any of this publishing has happened we've had to make another 200+ decisions about requirements, platform, data sources, ETL (Power Query/M), modeling, writing calculations (DAX, business logic, syntax), report design, and performance. After publishing we have another 20+ decisions around maintenance, monitoring, and continuous improvement.
Side note: I hope everyone reading this realizes just how valuable an experienced Power BI professional is. A person that has dealt with this process (end to end dozens of times for many clients in diverse industries) has started to form really good instincts around what the standards should be. We'll come back to that.
Back to the scenario. In just this one small area of how to publish and share a Power BI file there are easily 20-30 questions that need to be figured out. Maybe I'm over thinking this, and I'm happy to field that criticism, but based on my observations of organizations struggling to get the full value from these tools, I think not.
Are You Producing Quality, Consistently?
The inertia of this situation in every organization is that everyone on the team does their own thing, with greater or lesser degrees of variation, depending on some random variables - length of time on the job, random conversations with other team members, personal preferences, articles/books read. Here's why this is a problem.
As a Power BI creator, you are producing something for a customer. Your customer could be an internal or external person. That customer has expectations of quality for what you're delivering. And here's my big assumption ... As a team you want to meet those expectations of quality as consistently as possible, with the smallest amount of variation.
To produce quality consistently, you have to think about your process. The more standard work in your process, the less variation in your outcomes.
And here's the takeaway ... you drive continuous improvement around a process by noticing variations in quality, identifying where in the standard work the process is breaking down, and then updating the standard work accordingly. Look at the image at the beginning of this article. It's standard work that translates small improvements into continuous organizational improvements.
Why the Field Trip Matters.
Rob Collie introduced me to the idea of the "Field Trip" - this idea of getting out of the office and seeing what's really going on in the world. Experienced consultants have gone on this field trip.
Consultant: "I've done this dozens of times for a diverse set of customers. I've made mistakes, and learned how to address those mistakes. My clients have had success, and I've learned what drives success. You can hire me to get you up the curve faster, so you don't have to experience every bump on bruise along the way"
Lots of variation in experiences, and outcomes, sharpens a good consultant's intuition. And when it comes to developing your first round of standard work, it's helpful to work with someone that's been there before - it's like having a spirit guide (peyote and Mojave desert not included).
So here's a tip to people considering hiring a consultant, ask them about the mistakes they've made for previous clients, sit back and listen. Personally, I've got a list of mistakes I've made and I'm proud to discuss them because those mistakes are what make me worth hiring.
If you're staring at the Consulting Chasm and you're thinking about what valuable service you could provide, think about including Standard Work in your sales pitch.
It's Still Early
On two fronts.
First, organizations generally aren't thinking about analytics as a process to standardize with the goal of producing quality, consistently.
The growth of Power BI has been tremendous, on both the supply and demand side. In the past 12 months, many teams have gone from one person and a few internal customers to large teams and enterprise delivery. It's a situation that we're experiencing for the first time with Power BI. There are currently no obvious standards to adopt.
Second, the technical community that is generally responsible for analytical development is somewhat blind to the people, culture, and processes that drive quality and continuous improvement in analytics. It's 90% not a technical problem. It's also not a problem that people become aware of quickly - it takes a lot of observation to start to see the patterns.
I was thrilled in talking to Kellan to hear that PowerPivotPro is working on this problem. If you want to discuss the idea of standard work more, feel free to reach out. If you're interested in doing some work in this area I'm gonna recommend you reach out to Rob, Kellan, and crew at P3.
For a future post: It's my intention to develop a simple Wikipedia style reference for Power BI Standards. Much of this important knowledge is scattered throughout the community - in the mind of consultants, in articles, videos, and books. A little bit of work here could go a long way. Ping me if you have something to contribute.
Each of you who's thought about leaving a full-time job, steady paycheck has experienced the chasm. The chasm is that space between where you are and where you want to be, and it's mostly in your head.
Your River is More Like a Creek
The chasm. It's terrifying. It feels terrifying. You're asking yourself, how can I get from where I am today, my full-time job, to where I want to be, a choose yourself consulting life. You know it requires a leap, and you're imagining crossing a river that looks like this ...
But for people that have made the leap, looking back they'll tell you "eh it wasn't that bad."
What people who've made the leap will tell you is "I wish I had done it sooner." The reality is you're trying to cross a creek that looks more like this ...
And you're also going to be wearing a life preserver just in case you can't jump 4-5 feet all at once.
So if you're somebody standing at the edge contemplating the chasm, let me share a few ideas that you can upload into your system. Here forward this advice falls under the "Crossing the Consulting Chasm Operating System", the CCCOS.
If you're an employer reading this, and you have talented people that could use this information to better their situation, my best advice is to go ahead and better their situation proactively. Reach out to me and I can give a few suggestions on how to retain your best analytics people (without spending any more $$$).
5 Ideas to Upload
First, the worst thing that can happen to you if you decide to be a consultant is that you fail and you have to go find another full-time job.
Boo hoo. If you're the type of person that's even considering leaving then you're probably someone in high demand, and finding that next job isn't going to end you.
If you feel like leaving means you could never find another job as cush as the one you have now, then I have to ask, why are you considering leaving? My guess is that your current job kind of ... well ... it could be better.
Second, build the runway, or the bridge (in this metaphor).
Seems obvious, right? What's not obvious to you is that your first customer is the business that you're working for right now. You still want to work there right? But in a smaller role, in a part time role, where you can keep adding value but explore other opportunities.
If you're going extra spicy, frame it up like you're about to quit before rolling out the part-time idea. Chance of Success, 80%+
Other good ideas, do some cut rate work while you're still in your current job, and tell people "I'm going to charge $x when I leave but for the next 3 months I'll do work for you for .6x" Who can say no to that?
168 Hours In a Week = 50 working + 56 sleeping + [domestic responsibilities] + ... + Time to Plan Your Escape
Third, Charge What You're Worth.
For my people doing DAX and Data Modeling if you're good enough to be out on your own you should be charging around $100/hour or $700/day. Now this comes with the caveat that you're doing all the business development yourself.
I went to work at PowerPivotPro back in 2015 for less money per hour and an agreement that I wouldn't have to sell. If you're in an arrangement like that, knock 20-30% off your rate - it's worth it.
Fourth, plan to work 30 hours a week / 4 full days when you're at your busiest, 25 hours a week / 3 full days in an average week.
Many folks considering consulting take their hourly and daily rate and assume they'll be working 40+ hours. Not only is that extremely unlikely, it's not an outcome you want.
Consulting work is hard in a way that showing up at the office isn't. The expectations people have of you are higher, and every minute you're on the clock you should be delivering a lot of value. 30 hours a week of this will wear you out, plan accordingly.
Fifth, Develop the Signals AND/OR Put Skin in the Game
How does someone know that hiring you is going to deliver a solid ROI? They don't really.
You need to have some things that signal excellence. Referrals and testimonials rock. Having a blog where you write stuff people care about helps. A book is even better. Having worked at a respected place is A+.
If you're so fresh that you don't have a lot of strong signals to convey, here's a pro tip. Before sharing this let me say, this is something that I wish I had figured out years ago.
Price yourself so that you get paid if there are tangible, measurable financial results for the client. You say you're good at helping me make money? You say you're good at measuring stuff? Show me. It's hard for clients to argue with this approach.
You Probably Can't Do It
You probably can't do it. You should just keep doing what you're doing. You're not good enough. Don't quit your day job. If you're reading those words, and it kind of makes you mad, then you're ready to take some action.
Reach out to me if you're unsure what the next step looks like. I've already made the leap a few times now, and I'm here to help.