Monday, May 24, 2010

The Life of a Consultant

I had lunch today with one of the smartest people I know (no, I didn’t have lunch alone!).

He’s a software architect for a large global financial services firm and has found himself with an interesting job – he’s the “go to” guy for all of their most difficult software challenges. He referred to these projects as simultaneously repulsive and fascinating. He and his small team of equally brilliant people move from project to project – usually the ones that no one else want to take on, and unsurprisingly (to me at least) they are successful at solving these seemingly impossible problems.

The thing I found most interesting, is that the things he likes about his job are exactly what our consultants like about consulting: New challenges all the time; staying up to date on cutting edge technologies; and focusing on new design as opposed to maintenance.

I know this kind of group, (architecture, special projects, internal professional services, etc) exists within many big companies. This could be an alternative for engineers and programmers that crave the challenges and variety of the consulting life. Anyone have any experiences working in this kind of a group? What do you think?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

One Of My Favorite Innovative CT Companies

I had the pleasure of crossing paths with the Dr. Moinuddin Sarker of Natural State Resources a few years ago at a Connecticut Technology Council event. For those of you that are not familiar with this company, they have discovered a method to make fuel from recyclable plastic. You can read about them here.

Dr. Sarker was gracious and generous enough to give me a tour of his lab, and I was blown away! First of all, what a brilliant idea – talk about killing multiple birds.

As noted in the article, the EPA estimates that Americans produce about 31 million metric tons of waste plastics annually and only about 10% of this is recycled. I can believe this. The “tree hugger” in me wants to recycle everything, but until just last month my garbage company took very little – only 1s and 2s, and I think this is very common. What a great solution as to what to do with all that extra plastic.

On the output side of the equation is the fuel, and at the point that I first met Dr. Sarker gas was still hovering around $4 per gallon. Natural State Resources is currently estimating they can produce fuel for as little as $0.75 per gallon. With gas prices getting ready to do their annual summer-time rise, this sounds mighty attractive!

I’m thrilled to see Natural State Resources, Inc. getting so much press and recognition. I wish them all the best. This is the kind of ingenuity that America needs! Kudos to you and your team, Dr. Sarker!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Proposal Writing: What Do Clients Really Want? (Learning from our Failures)

OK, “failure” is kind of a strong word in this case. But here’s the story: We recently had the opportunity to do a “post mortem” kind of meeting on a deal we didn’t get (hey, you can’t win them all, right?) We thought we knew why, or had some ideas at least, but we wanted to find out for sure.

The client was generous enough to give us an hour of his time, and honest enough to give us really candid and open feedback. So what did we learn? Some of the things we had assumed were true, but there were others. The one that resonated most for me is the Business version of the grammar school advice to “Show your work”.

Our team had spent hours discussing this project, formulating an approach, and really drilling down into the details. In an effort (and it did take some effort) to make a clear proposal, we eliminated all the details behind our recommendations. Unfortunately the client interpreted that as a lack of analysis, and why not – he didn’t see it, so in his world it didn’t exist.

This really hit home for me. I was always a proponent of the short, sweet, clear proposal. I don’t’ know about others but I typically don’t want to read 20 pages of what someone thinks, but (ha – fortunately :-) ) not everyone is like me. Looking back it seems obvious that we should have included all the “sausage making details”, perhaps as an appendix or perhaps in the main proposal with an executive summary. I’m curious, what do others do?