Lessons Learned from A Consulting Project Gone Wrong with Nitya

In this episode, Nitya shares lessons learned from her first consulting experience and how she overcame obstacles.

Listen to the Episode Here:

I’m super excited to have Nitya on our show for a segment I like to call Drama in the Team Room. Nitya is going to share an experience that she had with us and hopefully be able to provide some insights for you all that may be going through something similar.

Interview with Nitya

Nitya, welcome to our show.

Thank you for having me, Christie.

Glad to have you as well. Before we get started, maybe you could give us a little bit of a context of your background, what type of consulting work you do and introduce yourself to our audience.

My name is Nitya and I came into consulting. I have a background in biology and biotechnology. Afterwards, I worked in the industry as a clinical project coordinator three years ago now. I got introduced to consulting while I was applying for some new positions and since then, it’s been a rollercoaster of a ride. I’m still learning many things. I like the field, it keeps me on my toes. I’m excited to be learning and also being able to share my experiences on this form.

I knew you were new to consulting. I didn’t realize you had that bio background, but thank you for sharing that context. You’ve switched over to a new consulting firm a couple of years ago, sharing an interesting scenario that happened to you. Maybe if you want to rewind a bit and share a little bit about your first consulting role, how things were going, and what happened that started to prompt a shift, which ultimately led to you leaving. Maybe you could share a little bit with everyone.

I came from clinical research background in the industry, not in consulting. While I was looking to leave my then current company, I was contacted by a boutique consulting firm looking to hire me for one of their clients. I was intrigued because the way that they had described what my experience in consulting would be like I was amazing because I was looking for something that would give me a lot of knowledge in a short amount of time. Not necessarily in a way that it’s like the quickest way to get rich but continuously growing and moving forward.

I decided to join the firm and initially, it was really good because I felt I had a good team and good support. The project that I was hired for, unfortunately, it fell through. I was on bench for a little while, which was confusing to me because I didn’t know what to do, as proactive about it. I reached out to my leaders, people who hired me, just to help out with anything. I spent about six months on bench and then, I eventually got onto a project. Before I signed on with this company, I wanted to make sure that we both were on the same page because I had never done consulting in my life. I wanted to make sure that they knew that I don’t know anything. I would need a lot of learning and development and in a space where I would be able to do that, leaders who would be able to teach me.

When this boutique firm reached out to you, at that time, were you interested in consulting? Was it just this opportunity came up, it was intriguing, and you said, “Let’s give it a try”?

MECE 06 | Consulting Project Gone Wrong
Consulting Project Gone Wrong: As a new consultant, you can’t straightaway start delivering materials straight to the client.

I had no idea what consulting was before. After they reached out to me and I went through the interview process, it was intriguing. I was excited, I thought, “Why not?” That’s how I started. Now when I’m on a project, I was under the impression that whoever the people who are deciding what project I get onto, what team I’m with, would know that I’m a junior consultant. I would need to be under a senior manager who would be willing to guide me, show me how to do certain things, allow me to understand what the client wants and then be able to deliver that. As a new consultant, you can’t straightaway start delivering materials straight to the client. You need your manager to look over your work and make sure it’s in tip top condition. I expected that they would let me know when I’m doing well in that course track.

I’ve worked with a lot of people that did come from the industry, not been in consulting, so you’re absolutely right. That is an expectation, but on their part, that’s something that they should have offered you because you don’t know. Consulting is a little different from other industries. I think you have the expectation.

After that experience, I just feel that, “Now I know that I definitely have to ask the right questions.” I can’t blindly trust my upper management to know what engagement to put me in, even though we’ve had this conversation before that I’m a very junior business analyst and I need a lot of support. Hindsight, I could’ve done some things that would have allowed me to avoid the disaster that occurred. During the project, there were misaligned expectations. The client expected me to be more experienced, being able to deliver right away and my manager thought that I would know everything and she wouldn’t have to review or give me guidance.

If I had asked the right questions, day one with my manager like, “What are the expectations of the client? What are your expectations?” Maybe we could have had that conversation to avoid what ended up being. It was a tough learning experience for me because up to that point I was not used to failure and that was very hard, but it was a growing experience. Ultimately, I was let go from that project but not from the company.

You were put on this project and the client expected a lot more from you. It sounded like their project manager also expected a lot more from you than you were actually able to deliver in their eyes, given that you were coming in as a business analyst, two, three years industry experience, first time consulting and what you’re saying is that you essentially got rolled off of that first engagement. How long did it take from when you started the project to getting rolled off?

Three to four weeks. There were holidays in between. It was pretty quick and I honestly did not understand what happened because we were turning from the holiday break, the day before the person who had hired me into the company had called me and was like, “You don’t need to go back to that site again.” He was nice about it. He didn’t even let me know what happened directly. After that phone call, I didn’t go back to the site, but eventually, I had to talk to the project manager and return the materials. It was a strange situation.

Let’s say your engagement manager, let’s pretend her name was Jennifer. Jennifer was onsite with the client, but it wasn’t Jennifer that gave you the message of you rolling off. It was someone else from your practice that did.

This person is pretty high up in the chain and he is responsible for hiring talent and placement, placing them on projects. He had multiple roles because it’s a boutique, small consulting firm. You wear a lot of hats. He was the person who had convinced me to join the company. I had had the conversation with him about, “I don’t know anything, you can’t expect me to hit the ground running without any support.” He assumes that he would have placed me in a project that would be more for my skills or in a team under a manager who also understood that. What I’ve learned is you should never assume anything in consulting. Always ask questions. That’s the biggest thing I can tell you. That was the situation.

Was there any moment during that three-week period that Jennifer mentioned something to you? Was there a conversation? It seems really odd that she’s the one that had this misalignment, but she’s not the one that gave you that message. Was there any defining moment when you realized this was not going well?

My first week onsite, the client was not prepared to have me onsite. I had literally no access to anything. I had no background materials for anything. My first week onsite was strange and I took it with stride. I spoke to my manager and she tried to get me materials to prepare me, but it wasn’t anything helpful. It was more for getting training for the site, just the company, not it’s my project. Second week, the meetings started to happen and I started sitting in on the meetings trying to understand what the project’s about, the background stuff that I needed. After one of the meetings, there was a deliverable that I needed to do, which happens to do with process flows and I had never done process flows before. I didn’t even know what process flows are before that term.

After the meeting, I was expecting to sit down with my manager. I had talked to her and I wanted to ask her these questions. Even though I do have a biology background and I came from clinical research industry, the client, even though it is in life sciences, it was completely different what the project was for. It was some system implementation and I had never done anything with systems or anything IT-related. I have tried to reach out to her and I tried to set up some meetings but she brushed me off. For a while, I kept trying and then I reached out to the person who had placed me on the project, and it was not going anywhere.

By the end of that second week, I had a meeting where I was supposed to gather information for my deliverable. I gathered the information and tried to ask as many questions as I could. After the meeting, I went to work trying to figure out how to do process flows. What I had expected was I will send this deliverable to my manager so she can review it and let me know what I missed, how to do better but I never heard from her. She just didn’t respond. She didn’t send me anything back. By that time, I started feeling uneasy and then that’s when Thanksgiving break happened. I came back and it was not a good situation. By the end of that week, I was rolled off.

When the rolling off happened and you got the phone call from the person that hired you, what was going on in your mind at that time? You’re new to consulting. Did you even know what that meant?

Even before that real engagement, what had happened in the six months when I was on the bench, I would go onto a project and help out, but then something would happen and then that project would fall through. We wouldn’t have that project. Everything was really rollercoaster-y, my experience. The first six months was up and down. By the time this experience happened, I was like, “Okay,” I didn’t understand. I was thinking I probably did something wrong, but maybe not because the client engagements fell through and that’s what happened to this one.

It wasn’t until I had to go back on site and give my laptop bag. My project manager tried to talk to me because by that time, I had understood that it was something that I did, and I wasn’t good enough. That’s when it all made sense. I never had a real conversation with anybody about what happened. Over the months after that happened, my company, they were nice enough to let me still explore or wait for opportunities for another six months, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I was rolled off when the company that I was with had a lot of setbacks in terms of projects and so I was let go with the batch of people.

That’s a really intense situation you went through. To be brought into this firm, sit on the bench for six months, that’s what happened to me in my first role out of college. Different reasons but I didn’t know people still sat on a bench for six months these days. That was surprising when you shared that. You sat there for six months, be put on the wrong project, not be given support, feeling like you did something wrong, which you clearly didn’t, given that it just sounded like it was a lot of misalignment all the way around and then being eventually let go, that’s a lot. What, in your mind, kept you wanting to be in consulting after that experience?

MECE 06 | Consulting Project Gone Wrong
Consulting Project Gone Wrong: It’s okay to make mistakes because you need mistakes to be able to learn from them.

After that experience, I took a little bit of time off and I wanted to think about if I want it to be in consulting. I took a full month and thought about it. What kept me wanting to give consulting another shot is that when everything was good, it was really good. I was excited to learn and there’s so much information and it just felt right. This is where I want to be. When it was bad, it was really bad. I also feel that the company wasn’t ready for somebody like me. I was the only green consultant they had hired. I thought I would like to still give this industry a try because it’s like at another company who is equipped to train somebody like me. For me, I would’ve needed a big project, a big project team, more than just a manager to be able to give me the support that I need.

At the time, they didn’t have many of those projects, if any at all, that involved big teams. It was more like two people from our company going on client site and helping them with the project. At the same time, I feel that project team, it’s hard to learn and then also be able to deliver on time the things that the client would want. It wasn’t a good environment for me. The person who had hired me had good intentions. The consultant company I joined was small, and the person who had hired me came from a consulting company, also boutique company but they had been around for twenty years and they were used to training young, fresh consultants. He had good intentions but didn’t work out. Everything in consulting, nothing is set in stone. A lot of it depends on what kind of work you’re able to get.

You sound so mature as you talk through that experience. I’m glad that you did give it a try because I think you’re right. There’s so much in the right environment. It goes back to the culture, the support, knowing where you want, what you need, and the firm that can fit that. Even though it was a rollercoaster, I am personally glad that you gave it another shot because you’re smart. You’d be a great consultant from the times you and I have connected in the past. I was excited when we connected. We reconnected again and you shared your new journey. Share with us where you are now or what type of consulting work you do. Share with us where you are mentally now given where you’ve come from.

I now am working for another boutique consulting company but this one is a lot bigger and it’s a lot more stable. It’s life sciences as well. It has been really good because that experience allowed me to find something, ask the right questions during interviews to know, “This consulting company, what projects does it have? How do they staff on their projects? What’s the bench rate?” These kinds of questions when I was interviewing for other consulting companies, I had asked them, and it seemed like the right space, the right time and exactly what I needed. I’ve been with this new company for a year and a half and it was in that time I feel emotionally and mentally I’ve grown a lot in the sense that I am learning a lot of new things about this industry that I’m in now. Also, my confidence level has definitely skyrocketed.

After that experience at my previous company, it really helped but didn’t want to help my self-confidence. When I first got staffed onto a client project in this new company, I had a lot of doubts in myself and in my work. Gradually, that faded but it was because of my current project manager. She knows what people under her need. She was very good about providing that support to me. Now, I am much more confident in terms of clients and my work and not as scared of making mistakes because I feel it’s okay to make mistakes because you need mistakes to be able to learn from them.

It sounds you’ve built a lot of trust with your new manager and it sounds like a really great environment. I congratulate you that you were able to move on and find a place that is a bit more better in terms of the culture and the leadership support. If you think about your top three lessons learned from your past experience, where you are now, what would you say they are and what advice would you give other young consultants, people that are coming from industry going into consulting? What advice would you give to them?

The biggest lesson I learned was ask the right questions and get on the same page with your upper management, whether it’s on the project or if you’re on bench. You always have to be vocal. Another thing would be just try to not let setbacks hold you back because another thing that limited me after that experience at the company was that I had so much self-doubt that held me back from being my best self or even internal projects. Try not to hold onto that and keep moving forward and know that consulting is never the same day in and day out. It’s always something new experience, be practical and be positive.

Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m sure someone out there is going to benefit from knowing your story, knowing they’re not alone. The lessons learned were spot on. You’ve said it really nicely. Thank you again for sharing your story. Head on out. Have a great day.

It was my absolute pleasure, Christie. Thank you so much.