Is my work adding value? This is one of the fundamental questions consultants must continually ask themselves as they provide services to their client(s). After all, a consultant’s services are sought because for one reason or another, the resources currently in place cannot otherwise achieve a desired result without the additional services provided. There are, however, many ways for a consultant to add value to a project, some of which include: reducing cost, minimizing waste (waste can take the form of things such as underutilized labor, production, transportation or inventory), lowering cycle time, or providing additional skillsets or knowledge. The more ways a consultant is able to add value for their client, the more desirable his/her services become, thereby maximizing potential future workflow into his/her company. Therefore, it is easy to see how those consultants who focus on broadening their skillsets to bring the most value to their clients will often stand out amongst their peers in working towards the overall success of their parent company.
I spent much of the early years of my career working as some form of a data analyst, where my roles and responsibilities were directly related to achieving clearly defined, cookie-cutter goals. I found myself in a position where my contributions to my company, the way I “added value”, was simply by following the directions I was given and producing the work product that I was told. There was no need, let alone incentive, for creativity because the thinking had already been done for me. My role was to be the grunt worker and just go through the motions to produce the necessary documents. Many young professionals find themselves in this type of role early in their career because it is one way the “corporate machine” attempts to pass on the knowledge of its business to its young workers. By submerging its junior level employees in enough work, there is the hope that maybe one day they’ll learn enough about the business and stick around long enough to get promoted and continue this cycle of corporate initiation with the next wave of grunt workers.
In consulting, this philosophy cannot thrive. As a consultant, you may be expected, at times, to undertake the tasks of the junior level “grunt worker”; however, there is always a catch. A consultant will only undertake a task because he/she is looking for a way to improve what is already in place. The consultant must ask the question, “How can I add value?” This will lead to any number of outcomes. Sometimes it may mean re-vamping a process, other times it may mean scrapping the current state process and replacing it with a new one. In my experience as a consultant working in data analytics, I have found that often times the way I add value was not the way I expected. My previous experience with data allowed me to use my business skills to give a thorough analysis of the data presented to me, but now, my clients always want more. After all, any grunt worker could have done the same analysis I had just conducted. The way I am adding value for my clients is by restructuring processes to make them simple and repeatable. One of the most effective ways I have learned to do this is by working to automate processes in any way I could, thereby eliminating the possibility of human error and greatly reducing the amount of time it takes to generate a report. The benefit of automating a report is it also gives you the ability to create easy-to-understand visual aids for clients to quickly review and get a grasp for trends within a data set.
As a data analyst, my focus was on completing a task and moving on to the next one. However, now as a consultant, my focus is on finding ways to transfer my “data analyst” knowledge to people who may not possess the same data acumen, but can still easily understand the output of my work. I now focus my time on ensuring processes are simple, repeatable and accurate. Does the process take less time than before? Are there fewer steps than before? Do the visuals capture the most prolific trends within the data? Will it cost my client less to complete this new process from start to finish? These are the questions I ask and the ways I add value to my projects. Without asking these questions, I would be failing to take responsibility for uncovering the hidden value in a process and capturing it for my clients, which is always the primary objective for any consultant working in data analytics. Without asking these questions, I am still simply a data analyst.
In consulting, the one question every consultant must always ask themselves is, “Is my work adding value?” It is never too early to begin acquiring the broad skillsets that it will require to ensure that your work is doing just that.