The Darkside of Consulting

Awhile back, I was contracted to guide the final stage of operations for an endeavor.  The venture sounded interesting and the sales pitch was a good one.  They knew how to sell their startup and they had a great message. It sounded like a pretty sweet deal.  It was also supposed to lead to a longer contract on the back end.   

I signed up and off the signature line, there were problems. 

We’d had agreed that I’d be there first of the following month.  Initially, the owners asked me to help them locate other potential contractors.  At first, this wasn’t a problem because they only asked for a suggestion.  But that tuned into a whole slew of additional projects that consumed quite a bit of time. I had to remind them I wasn’t on contract at this point, and I was midway into another project.  Unfortunately, that reminder went unheeded.  Their requests continued until it was time for me to head to their office.

During my drive, I received a text asking me to detour to another city to attend a conference they were at.  I declined since there wasn’t accommodations in place for when I arrived.  This city was a couple hundred miles away from location and my destination.  By now, all of their ‘favors’ we’re costing me in time, which translated to money for my business.  Not to mention the few hundred dollars for attendance to the conference. This one was another red flag, but I ignored it and continued the trip. 

It’s here I’ll tell you I should have seen what was coming next.

The morning of my first day on location, I was told I didn’t have any “power”.  Being contracted to guide the project, the owners thought that meant I worked for them as an employee in their flat organization.  I didn’t realize it at first, but that quickly changed. The owners were explicit in directing everything; from where the contractors sat to working hours.  Everyone, except the owners and one contractor, were new to the project. Each having arrived within a few days of one another and only two months from delivery. This meant, their work hand’t even begun, let alone come close to being anywhere near ready for a client to see. 

To make things worse, there wasn’t any kind of project plan.  Warning the owners about the obstacles they had created; their response was to create more roadblocks.  No one was authorized to send emails as communication.  As project manager, I wasn’t supposed to talk to the team.  The owners went so far as to say, “I’ll know you’re doing your job when you never speak to them.”  The crew was fifteen steps away in the workshop.  The owners wanted everything on a chat platform to monitor what we were saying. 

With restricted communication, the next few weeks became a mess.  The owners continuing their micromanagement of the crew.  Which changed nothing about the rate of progress.  As the deadline loomed, the owners railed against everything, singling out something they’d ‘get pissed off about’.  Then they’d use it to batter members of the team.  With their constant tirades, the owners managed to create silence and fear in the workshop.  Each meeting, the owners would criticize everything, reminding people that they “worked for them and had to do things their way”.  

New issues arose, each was promptly ignored or argued about.  To further complicate things, one of the owners was continuously changing the mechanical design.  On the flip side, the electrical work was reliant on a single individual who was rapidly approaching burnout.  I tried to coach them through, to no avail.  At one point we left to go pick up my car and have dinner.  We wanted to talk about the project and some other things.  The owners called, belittling us for leaving. The engineer was told that it was important that he stay and work.  Even going so far as to tell him that there wasn’t communication because he left for dinner. 

Without actual authority or free ability to manage my own working conditions, I was not able to stop the forth coming problems.  It took about a week for the venture to slam to a halt.  We were less than two weeks away from departing for project delivery. The engineer terminated their contract on their way to the airport. 

With their slipshod management, the owners chased off the previous engineers.  Now they were doing the same to this one. The company had been working on the project for several years.  Without pass down information, all previous iterations were lost to time.  The lack of a conclusive project plan, a concrete mechanical device to work with, or assistance with build, the engineer simply had enough.  That left the current engineer feeling overwhelmed.  They had worked over 300 hours to redesign the electronic systems from ground up in a few short weeks.  

Chaos ensued. A meeting was called, instantly becoming a one-sided barrage of personal attacks.  The company owners berated the departed engineer as though they were the sole cause of all their woes.  In the same slapdash manner, they arrived at this point, they forced their beliefs about the importance of their ‘win’. 

By now, I’d spent the duration of the contract listening to the owners berate the team, investors, myself, and others that crossed their path.  Whiplashing between fawning over an outside advisers while slandering departed crewmen, the spectacle was nauseating.  They failed to comply with agency regulations governing their business and the project.  It wasn’t like they were unaware of the broken system they had created. That was the worse part. They knew but brazenly continued.  

Every dark spot in life is a chance for growth.  Reading through the journal I kept for this contract, made it clear each mistake I had made. I feel it also important to say, that I think I saw the worst of business owners in that contract.  Allowing the contract to continue, I had set myself up to endure abusive and abrasive business owners.  Through everything, the owners thought they were right.  They arrogantly justified ignoring laws and regulations.  They thought they were creating something was cutting edge. 

Conversation and communication are a key parts to the working environment.  Understanding past work, previous problems and iterations, plus having clear cut guidelines is imperative to creating a project delivery.  There’s more to project management than just a deadline.

I guess I should tell you that I left the project two days after that meeting.  

Carrying on, I require the project plan up front.  I don’t work outside of the contract time lines any more either.  I also include a clause for bad behaviors and illegal activities in any contracts.