Take some time to think carefully when you

“Two CDs. One box. Three years.” That’s what I said to a consultant working with me as we left a client site for, perhaps, the last time. The CDs had data and notes of three years of project work I had done. Unlikely to ever be used again. The box had paper documents and personal effects such as tea-stained mugs.

This was all that I could see of three years of intensive work for a client. Consultants, at least smart ones, don’t get fired; they move on. In this case our client had been bought by the competition and the new masters had cleaned house. It was obvious from the start that we were on the them side of the us-and-them equation, despite a good business case for our services.

Putting things into perspective was necessary. How often have you felt that your time was wasted after a project was cancelled or a reorganization had occurred? With the IT business, this upheaval seems more common than most. Whimsy seems to play as big a role as logic in deciding what stays and what goes. This leads to depressing self analysis. Unless you kicked the boss’s butt every time you played golf or mixed corporate and sexual politics the wrong way, questions like “should I have worked longer hours?” don’t help.

How do you measure your own value? You could be cynical and decide that, in an outsourcing or buy-out situation, your years of service were wasted. “Why did I code a system for a year when the new owners didn’t understand it and ditched it?” Perspective is important. Perhaps the work you were doing on that system helped create the fear that made the competition come and buy the company and kill certain projects. Or, even if the financial problems were terminal and inevitable, your efforts in keeping the venture afloat probably kept the company worth buying at all.

In our case, we were easily able to measure how much money our system collected in comparison to the predecessor business process. After we subtracted our fees and related costs from that number, we clearly were beneficial for the company, regardless of its fate.

But it’s not always good for the self-esteem to think about how much money you made for someone else. What about your professional development? Did someone pay you to learn how to code with a new language and put that knowledge to practical use? That’s not bad. In our case, the time with the client took us into Internet technologies in a big way.

Personal development also matters; what new friends did you make on the job? Often people underestimate the value of connecting with new people. Part of life is meeting people and trying to understand why they are so weird. A couple of long-time friends were the result of a horrific job where we were under the gun to deliver the impossible. The challenges of the job bound us together. And it was fun all quitting at roughly the same time.

Another way to determine progress, which can show the continuity of your corporate, professional and personal achievements, is to remember what you were like when you started the project. What were your assumptions then? What did you say when you were asked the question, “Where are you going to be in five years?”

In our case we started out with one person for six months to help with a little Y2K issue. This lead to a peak of ten people on two projects over three years. The client benefited, we made money and all learned. Best of all some new friends and associates were made, taking us to new and unexpected places.

When I put the box in the trunk, the CDs and tea-stained mugs looked terrific.

Ford is a consultant in Vancouver who never ceases to be surprised by the information technology industry. He can be reached at [email protected]

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