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Virtual vs. On-the-Job Shadowing


Michelle Bruce
OutStart CLO & VP of Services

You wouldn’t think a volcano in Iceland would so clearly outline the potential problems a Professional Services organization would have if air travel were not available. When flights were stranded, so were the majority of our consultants, most on a different side of the ocean and not able to get back for days. We adapted, however, and either reworked schedules, borrowed resources from other departments or utilized virtual conferencing to handle the scheduled activities.

As the one responsible for our worldwide product implementations and the great group of consultants who provide those implementations, I am constantly focused on meeting our business goals and ensuring we continue to improve efficiencies. One area of improvement the Services department started working on a few months back, was around certification of new consultants.

For 8 years we have used the model of on-the-job shadowing and participation during a real implementation to train our new consultants. This process typically consisted of a week or two-week orientation about the company and products, then off to an engagement as a Jr. Consultant, engaged side-by-side with the Sr. Consultant leading the engagement. Customers benefited having two personnel onsite working on their project while paying for one, and we benefited having the new consultant fully exposed to what an engagement looks like from beginning to end; however, the costs to OutStart were fairly significant.

With the changes in the economy this past year, we needed to take a close look at our certification process and determine if there was a way to modify our approach to certification and eliminate some of our costs. One thought we had was to move to virtual shadowing using the technologies of today such as virtual meetings and social business software. Our thinking was that with approach we could provide the same benefits to the new employee while decreasing the costs of a non-billable consultant’s travel expenses.

With a new model to try out, we are now tackling the issues of virtual shadowing and certification. We assign a mentor / Sr. Consultant to a new employee who participates virtually on a real project, but still has the same opportunity to participate in an engagement and implementation. We have designed a “boot-camp” for a few weeks prior to the virtual shadowing to get the new consultant prepared and have designed alternate activities for cases where the virtual shadowing does not work. All activities, tasks and mentored sessions are tracked within a workgroup of our social business software, as well as all project documentation, discussion forums and exchanges between other consultants (experts) and the new consultant, as they work through the process.

Prior to the volcano, we had started this new program of certifying new consultants, and are currently reviewing the progress, making modifications and expanding. Post volcano, I have started to consider a variety of options for delivering the same quality of implementation consulting, but in different ways. I heard a great commentary on NPR during the travel crisis that discussed what would happen if we could no longer fly and all travel had to be by boat and train. In that story, a young boy was listening to his grandfather describe the days when airplanes flew through the skies carrying people. The young boy could hardly believe it. I started thinking, if I had to provide the same services worldwide without the speed of flight, how would we redesign what we do? I have already started that thinking process…has anyone else?

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