I’ve just finished my first 2 months working as a consultant. On 1st September 2009 I started work at EMC Consulting, the number 2 digital agency in the UK (according to the NMA top 100 list). Life as a consultant definitely seems different to working in an agency. I’ve jotted down a few of the differences here.
There’s no messing around – you have to be delivering the goods from day one
1. Working on-site with clients
This is the key difference for me – as a consultant you’re actually working with the client in their offices a lot of the time. The teams on the client-side tend to be web producers who oversee the projects and budgets and call in consultants to do the specialist work.
This means that you’re very much seen as the expert, and as an expensive resource. So there’s no messing around – you have to be delivering the goods and adding value from day one.
You’re also a more independent operator than at an agency. Moving from an agency to a consultancy almost feels to me like going from being at school to being an adult! I’m responsible for my work and output rather than being told what to do all the time. I can work from home if I need to, I can work at the London office, or I can work on client site. Whatever’s needed to get the job done.
The interactive media team consists of strategy, user experience, visual design and interface development
The model EMC Consulting use is the interactive media (IM) team consists of strategy, user experience, visual design and interface development. There are also hardcore back-end developers and technical architects who are in a separate division. Project managers and business analysts are organised into sector-specific teams, for example Retail, Media & Entertainment and Financial Services.
In my experience working on-site with clients results in much better communication between teams. Decisions are made quickly via a brief chat or over-the-shoulder show and tell, rather than lengthy emails or phone calls.
2. Changing projects
One of my colleagues here said that he feels like he has a new job every 6 months – and I know what he means. Once you become quite embedded on a client site for a couple of months or more, it becomes very much like that is your actual job. Which in a way it is, but you’re working for EMC Consulting all the time.
You can then be removed from a project quite suddenly and sent on to something else at short notice. You’re then going in to a brand new client and consultancy team, with all the challenges that a new job brings. You have to prove yourself and add value immediately while at the same time learning the client culture and the project.
It keeps things interesting, and personally I’m liking the variety at the moment, even if it is quite unstable/unsettling at times. I’m used to having a leaving do when I leave my friends at work, rather than just disappearing!
3. Bonus, on the bench & personal development
One of the big selling points of EMC Consulting when I joined was the personal development that in my mind they’re famous for. It certainly seems good to me so far – you have personal development goals every quarter which are logged by your line manager and you get some of your bonus based on whether you complete them or not.
When you’re on client site all your hours are directly billable to the client – so timesheeting is really important because it directly relates to invoices that are sent out. When you’re not on a project you’re what’s known as ‘on the bench’ – free to work on new business opportunities, or your own personal development, or just generally come up with ideas.
This seems like a really progressive approach to me. In a training session the other day we were discussing the concept of ‘slack time’, and how companies such as Google have become successful partly by letting their employees have some downtime to come up with their own ideas. I’m going to try and read up on this more.
4. Technology centred?
When I first accepted the job, one of the representatives from the other roles I turned down warned me that she thought the world of consultancy was too technology-centred. Although she was not referring to EMC Consulting directly but to consulting in general, she said:
“I know you’ve made your decision, but I have to say I’m always rather disappointed with the consultancy world – in my experience they tend to understand the theory of UCD, but are still driven by tech or business requirements. But then maybe that’s your challenge.”
Two months in and I do know what she means to a certain extent – the projects are very technical and business requirements do play a significant role in defining some of the projects I’ve worked on. Up to now, however, I have been able to successfully push the end user requirements and the client teams do understand that user experience is a priority in delivering successful systems.
The best way I can judge this as time goes on is by my frustration levels – if my suggestions are knocked-back repeatedly due to technical constraints (as has happened in the past in my career) I will be unhappy and feel like my work is not being valued. But this is not happening at the moment.
Ultimately I think websites will always be a merger of business requirements, user requirements and technology
Ultimately I think websites will always be a (beautiful?) merger of business requirements, user requirements and technology innovations and constraints. As a design team we all debate the features and design from our own point of view and produce a product which is ultimately released. There’s no point having a rose-tinted view of how products are produced – the reality is that businesses are paying for results, and the majority of the time user requirements are vital to achieving this. But sometimes business requirements or technical requirements have to take precedence.
The main thing is that the work I do is at the heart of the design and development process, enabling me to put the case for the end user at every opportunity. This is certainly the how it is at EMC Consulting.
5. Community day
Finally, community day is a show-and-tell day where the entire company get together every 6 weeks and share ideas. It’s a great way to meet all your colleagues (bearing in mind you’re all out on client site most of the time) and the presentations are largely interesting. Good stuff.
At EMC Consulting it feels like we’re doing some of the best work around
In summary, the world of consulting seems varied, interesting, and most importantly at EMC Consulting it feels like we’re doing some of the best work around. You do miss out on having a team who you see every day for years on end, but the flip side of this is that you get varied and challenging work week in, week out. The culture of ideas generation and sharing seems really positive to me.