Sunday, March 30, 2014

What a misguided road trip has taught me about being a Consultant

In November 2013, I was honored to be able to speak at SharePoint Saturday Denver. One of the perks of speaking there was that the awesome organizers put together a ShareSki…a group of SharePoint Peeps skiing after a day of SharePoint Saturday Fun! I decided to ride with the ski trip organizer, my friend Kevin Grohoske (@SharePointMetro), so that we could catch up. I figured we’d get there first since the tickets were under his name…and let me tell you…I was ready for my dream of skiing in Colorado to come true.

Little did we know that a quick 75-minute drive would take a little over 4 hours!  As soon as we sat in the car, I volunteered to navigate since I’m an excellent navigator, excellent. I asked Kevin where we’re going, he told me it’s called Arapahoe. So, I typed “Arapahoe” in my handy little map app on my cell phone, it calculates…and off we go.

Kevin and I were talking and just having a great time catching up. We passed the airport and I was so happy that it was going to be close to the ski resort since I was catching a ride with a friend after…which means I can ski longer. After a little over an hour in the car, we were excited to see signs for Arapahoe. We’re looking around and enjoying the view of the plains, and as a joke, Kevin said, “Shouldn’t we be seeing mountains for skiing?” And then we realized, he was right, the beautiful Rocky Mountains were directly behind us on the other side of Denver!


Well, come to find out, there is an Arapahoe County, CO that is not a ski resort, but rather a beautiful, very flat area east of Denver.

So, back to my trusty little map app, and I get more specific…and I type in “Arapahoe Ski”. The app redirects and viola, we’re turning around towards the mountains. Cool, but to be honest, I’m a little ticked. Why didn’t my trusty app ask me “Did you mean” when I typed in “Arapahoe”? I mean, it knows everything map related and it should have known that there are multiple places with Arapahoe in it.  How was I to know that Arapahoe is actually a popular term to name things in Colorado?  Why didn’t it ask me, instead of just directing?   OK, fine, I’m over it…we’re on our way!

So, about 75 minutes later, we are driving in mountains…woohoo! And another hour we arrive in Winter Park, we’re driving back and forth on the road where the skiing is supposed to be and see nothing….finally we check the address very carefully and pull up to…a hotel called “Arapahoe Ski Lodge”.  Ummm…what? Now, don’t get me wrong, the Arapahoe Ski Lodge looked like a lovely place, but there was no snow and worse, no open ski mountain…and I was really ready to ski!


SO…this time we look up the actual exact name of the place we’re supposed to go ski and I go back to my awful lying map app that I had always depended on, and I typed in “Arapahoe Ski Basin”. And I double checked it against a web site that stated its runs were open and the addresses were the same (I’m not trusting the map app anymore to know my intentions anymore).

Oh good, it’s only 15 miles…but did you know that 15 miles in the mountains is over an hour drive! Grrr…so off we go….up the mountain, down and around the mountain…a very beautiful scenic drive and we did finally get there…four hours later than everyone else! Don’t worry, we had called the ticket office to release the tickets to our friends…we didn’t leave them hanging.


So, when I think about this road trip as a project; Kevin is my Executive Sponsor, the map app is the expert/consultant and I am the project manager/customer. Here are the lessons I learned:

  • --The executive sponsor usually knows more details about where he wants a project to go…it’s up to the project manager or expert to clarify those details before we start running.
  • --The project manager/customer may not know all the expert’s lingo or options available…anyone who knows SharePoint knows that there are usually several ways to get the same thing done, but each has a slightly different result or cost associated with it. It is the responsibility of the expert to ask clarifying questions, like “Do you mean…”
  • --Just because the path your taking is convenient (passing by the airport) doesn’t mean it’s the right one.
  • --It is the customer’s responsibility to look up and take notice at intervals along the way to make sure the project is heading in the right direction. After all, the expert is only taking you where it thinks you want to go…it can’t read minds. 
    • ----Though the app didn’t know where we were going, in a real partnership, the expert should be looking up and asking along the way as well.
  • --It is critical that the expert doesn’t make assumptions…specificity is key!  My goal will be to always ask clarifying questions and make sure that our destination is the destination my customer and the executive want to go. 

In the end, the road trip was still a great success! Kevin and I had some great conversations, we finally caught up with the one friend that was still skiing, Eric Overfield (@EricOverfield) and had a great time with him, my dream of skiing in Colorado finally came true (it was awesome) and I learned a valuable lesson about being an expert/consultant – it’s all about being a good guide.