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StrategyMar 19, 2014

Preparing for Technology Consulting: A Mountain Metaphor Realized

Shelby Strodel

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountains and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”

-John Lubbock

At Credera, we take on our clients’ toughest challenges and climb their mountains right beside them. A month before I started at Credera I was able to climb Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and the tallest mountain in Maine. While this may seem like an unconventional way to prepare myself for a fast-paced career as a technology consultant, I learned many lessons from my adventure that apply to the project development life cycle at Credera. In my short time at Credera, these lessons have made me more valuable to my clients and my colleagues.

Lesson 1: Plan Ahead

Diligent planning is integral to the success of climbing mountains.

Before we started our trip, there were many hours of planning and preparation. We needed to pick a group, organize the food, take inventory of the gear, distribute the loads evenly, check the weather, choose a trail, buy the permits, and many other tasks to ensure a safe and efficient trip. These tasks mirror those of a comprehensive envision phase at Credera: pick a skilled team, set up environments, create and assign backlog items, choose a technical strategy, buy software licenses, etc. Well-planned projects reduce the number of pitfalls and allow teams to focus on climbing.

Lesson 2: Know Your Responsibilities

In order to tackle a mountain, you need a team with well-defined roles.

Our hiking group included a certified outdoor wilderness guide, a leader with authority on group decisions, and an experienced hiker to maintain forward progression and positive attitudes. At Credera we have project leadership roles including technology lead, officer-in-charge, and project director that serve these same functions, respectively. With these well-defined roles, project leaders can prevent miscommunications and redundancies by better identifying cross-function risks and applying their expertise more precisely. In both hiking and consulting, it is important to define roles and responsibilities so that no energy is wasted.

Lesson 3: Engage Along the Way

It is easy to get lost when you aren’t with the group.

Working in the same space as the rest of your team can be key to the success of a project. So put away your phone, take off your headphones and listen to every conversation in the room. You will be amazed by how much you absorb while only half-listening. Great conversations on a mountainside make a hike feel like a stroll.

Lesson 4: Don’t Be Afraid of the Cloud

In both nature and technology, clouds seem ominous but actually bring shade and shared resources.

Along our hike, we would casually rest in the shade of a passing cloud to check-in with each other and enjoy the stillness of nature. On my projects at Credera, we utilize Windows Azure databases and Microsoft Team Foundation Server to collaborate our code in the cloud and manage our product backlog throughout development. Without clouds, project efficiency can decrease and weary hikers get sunburned.

Lesson 5: Enjoy the View All the Way to the Top

It is important to acknowledge small successes, but stay focused until you reach the summit.

Whether on a project or a hike, teams should not move on too quickly from checkpoints. On Mount Katahdin, our whole group sat after climbing a difficult rockslide and took in the view before continuing to the summit. On projects, small moments can be pivotal to success when teams realize, “Okay, it took a long time to figure that out. Let’s high five, and keep going.”  Celebrate small wins so that team members are more motivated to accomplish large ones.

Lesson 6: Don’t Forget About the Hike Down

Just when you think the hard part is over, leave enough time and energy to finish strong.

As developers, we love creative functionality that meets requirements. But as consultants, we work with our clients through numerous testing and feedback loops to exceed their original expectations. While both hiking down and fixing bugs are exhausting and less thrilling, it is important to remember the view from the top.

Lesson 7: Once You’ve Climbed One Mountain, Don’t Think You’ve Climbed Them All

Humility is hard to maintain in light of past successes.

Every mountain, every project, every team is different. As a young consultant I am constantly reminded that “I don’t even know what I don’t know.” In only a short time I have learned so much more than I thought I was capable of understanding, but I have still barely left the foothills. I am excited to show up to work each day at Credera because we humbly redefine the consulting stereotype by exceeding our clients’ expectations with genuine communication and proven technology solutions.