By: Aaron Ohms
Wednesday June 22, 2011: Kumasi, Ghana
It is hard to believe that our time in Ghana, working on this gel fuel project, is coming to an end. I find myself reflecting on what we have accomplished. Having a consulting background, I am reminiscing about the skills I have utilized here and where I learned those skills in the past. The location and scenery have changed but I see now the similarities and differences between this client engagement and my previous client engagements when I was working in the private sector. The only thing that is different is there are no $100 million ERP systems to implement. Instead, those are replaced by cook stoves and feasibility studies at a grass-roots level.
Having been an IT consultant for a large multinational company, I can see the similarities to what I am doing on this consulting project in Africa and how those skills have helped me succeed here.
The first similarity relates back to project methodology. Sure, the terminology is different; yet, it is the same preparation and mindset of how you go about managing a complex project such as this. You start with building a high-performing team that has various drives and motivation. Throughout this project our team had each other’s back and we were there for one another when times got tough. Then you shift to building a framework under which the project will operate and the specific tasks and assignments that go along with it. It is important to hold work sessions and interviews with the client and other stakeholders early on to understand the scope and business requirements necessary. Once you get these, you hit the testing phase, more or less, where you begin to realize if your framework and assumptions make sense. You try to work out the kinks and make adjustments where you can; however, there is a time constraint and sometimes the most effective decision is to continue moving forward in order to deliver high impact client value. When these facets come together, it is time to deploy your recommendations to the client and “hand over the steering wheel”, so to speak. This is a true test of grit to see if what your team has done actually makes sense and pays off for the client in the long run.
The challenge on this project has been working with multiple clients and managing expectations in a complementary and appropriate manner. Sometimes you need to go slow to go fast and keep in mind that we do not have all the answers. Ghana is an unknown environment to me. I had no clue what to expect, nor did I want to plan too much. The key here is to remain flexible [see Debra's blog on flexibility], just like in any other position in life; that is our greatest asset- flexibility. Along with this foreign location comes a new culture and language style that we have to adapt to. I have worked in China before on an enterprise implementation project but I have never been to West Africa, let alone, this type of developing country. I was continually reminded of the challenges this country faces, and the fact they will still remain when I return home. The thing that kept me going and what I had to focus on were the skills I learned as a consultant; that was key because that is what would help me, and the team, the most on this client engagement. Ghana is truly an emerging market and developing nation. It was not without its frustrations, but I did come away with an understanding of where they are coming from. That is what happens when you are living in a location for more than just a week. I think that is the best quality of TEM Lab; putting you in this position to find your way out while solving a complex social issue at the same time. It’s intriguing, it’s enlightening, and it’s exciting.
This experiential learning concept that we engulf ourselves in is one to be reckoned with. This has been more challenging and rewarding than I could have imagined and I challenge someone to find me another project like this, working with a team in an emerging market, where what you think you know is obsolete. It comes down to instincts; you say to yourself, “what would I do if I were in [the client’s] position?” I have seen things here that I never thought would work in a million years, but it turns out they do. You will have to see for yourself to believe it. I leave you with this: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. In the words of my running friends –finish hard Ghana.