5 tips for success on industry student projects -- Students
Over the past three years, Riipen has helped thousands of higher ed students, instructors, and organizations succeed on experiential learning projects. If you’re about to embark on an in-class project with an industry client, use this opportunity to its full potential! And that's not all, for if you're a student taking an exam, viz. CLEP or DSST, you'd also receive assistance on CLEP Test Prep and the necessary material, essentially increasing your chances of passing the exam.
Let’s face it, you’re already completing this project for class credit, so why not use the opportunity to gain some work experience before you graduate, build your professional network, win project incentives such as interviews and work placements, and ultimately make the most out of the education you're paying a pretty penny for!
To help you succeed with your initiative, here are five pro-tips from yours truly that you’ll want to consider to maximize the experience. Take it from us, we used to be in your shoes!
1. Get sticky with your team
You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your team members! Some you’ll undoubtedly invite to your wedding, others maybe not so much. That’s just part of the game -- and let me tell you, you don’t get to pick your co-workers so best to get used to collaborating with a wide variety of people early on.
But regardless of how you feel about your team members, you should strive to achieve a certain level of cohesiveness so that you can be effective as unit. Some points of discussion you may want to talk about internally with your team members before your first meet with the industry client include:
- What is our goal as a team with this project? - e.g. earn a particular grade, have the company implement our findings, help the company achieve “X”, etc.)
- What are our individual goals for this project? - e.g. earn a particular grade, get a good Riipen experience rating/referral from the employer, nurture a professional contact, land an interview/ work placement, etc.)
- Who should do what during our client interactions and meetings? - e.g. team lead communicator for email communication, time keeper for in-person meetings, note taker, question facilitator, etc.)
- How do we want our client to perceive us? - e.g. professional considerations including attire, use of language, group organization, non-verbal communication, etc.)
- What is our team availability to help accommodate our client’s schedule? - e.g. set aside specific time blocks each week that you are available for in-person meets, calls, and virtual collaboration, etc.)
- Consider a basic project charter - e.g. outline the roles of each team member during this project! Yes, we hate creating project charters just a much as the next person, but similar to a legal contract, it doesn’t hurt to make sure your team members are accountable for their actions -- especially if you have a lot riding on this project personally.
Believe it or not, first impressions make a huge difference. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, but with some light team planning, you can be sure to nail it and get your engagement off on the right foot.
2. Make the most of your client interactions
Every chance you have to interact with an industry partner is an opportunity for you to showcase your skills, nurture a valuable relationship, and build out your industry reputation. With that in mind, you may want to consider some of these tips when meeting with your client next:
- Dress and present yourself professionally - this could be the starting point of much bigger opportunities to come, so make an amazing first, second, and third impression)
- Use an agenda for your meetings - send it to your client before the interaction (e.g 10 minutes on item A, 20 minutes on item B, 5 minutes on item C and stick to your time blocks)
- Always come prepared - with a progress update, as well as follow-up questions/concerns that you uncover as you progress through your work. If you have concerns, come prepared with possible solutions! Be proactive, you’re on a tight deadline.
- Have a list of action items/takeaways - what you’d like to get accomplished from each meeting and next-step actions for you and the client.
Everyone wants to feel confident going into a client meeting, and with some easy preparation, you’ll blow your industry client away and set a good foundation for a rewarding collaboration!
3. Set clear expectations early on
Remember the last time you were disappointed? Yup, same here… Yesterday morning when I ordered the breakfast wrap from McD’s.
Unclear expectations are probably the number one reason why projects fail -- or result in an outcome that is less than desireable for one or more of the parties involved. Company A expected X, Student Team B produced Y. Simple as that.
The most common reoccurring trends we see around setting expectations, is student teams not giving enough consideration to the information they need to collect from the company contact at the onset of the project, as well as not setting communication expectations and scheduling follow up meets or calls during their first meet. As a best practice, we encourage you to develop a series of in-depth questions that you think you’ll need to ask the client during the first meeting. This really sets the stage for what both parties can expect throughout the project engagement so try to think this one through thoroughly as a group. You may want to ask things like;
- Background information on the client - e.g. current standing of operations, current focus of the business, main competitors, etc.
- Detailed breakdown of client needs
- Scope of the project
- Major tasks that make up the scope
- What does success look like for the client?
- What are the tangible/intangible deliverables to be produced?
- What are the resources available? - e.g. financial, human, information, etc.
- What is their availability like? - e.g. how often do they respond to emails, when is a good time to get email questions addressed, when are they free for a more hands-on interaction [in-person/call/virtual meets], etc.
- How/when are we going to schedule check-ins and other tentative meets/calls? - identify the tools you will use to communicate (slack, email, skype, etc.) and it’s never a bad idea to schedule a few checkpoint meetings well in advance so everyone can stay on track with the project.
- Should we prepare a project proposal?
Remember, this is a collaboration. The client may be looking for your ideas and guidance just as much as you are looking for theirs. If you and the client come away from your first meeting with a clear understanding of the project and communication expectations, you’re already 50 percent of the way there!
4. Keep your client warm
One of the biggest determinants to success on industry projects is effective communication. You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again. Communication is key! We’ve documented time and time again that student groups that make a habit of staying in contact with their client on a weekly or bi-weekly basis achieve higher outcomes and create more value for their clients than those that don’t.
We encourage your Team Lead Communicator to be responsible for sending a quick email update to your contact once per week outlining the progress you’ve made. You’ll also want to ask any questions you have and mention any concerns you're experiencing with some possible solutions.
Not only are you holding yourself and your client accountable, but you’re also ensuring that you’re taking the right steps to setting standards and promoting a mutually beneficial working relationship. Moreover, you’ll impress your client by highlighting your organizational skills and ability to execute a project -- two things highly coveted by today’s employers.
5. Consider a project proposal
One of the best things you can do to ensure a smooth project engagement is creating a project proposal. *Note: massive bonus points for choosing to do this! Now the proposal doesn’t need to be complicated, and more often than not, it is better to stick to K.I.S.S (Keep It Stupid Simple). That being said, there are a few things you should consider putting into your project proposal to ensure that accountability is in place and you structure your project for success. If your team is going to use a project proposal, you may want to consider including things like:
- Project Goal Statement - make sure it’s S.M.A.R.T - Specific, Measureable, Action-oriented, Realistic, Time-based.
- Project Objectives - think of objectives as the milestones you need to hit in order to achieve your overall goal statement.
- Project Scope Statement - e.g. the scope of this project is to help XYZ Company explore/address/correct “X” problem/opportunity/challenge through “Y” specific activities by “Z” date.
- Stakeholders - both internal/external to the project and their respective contact info and roles in the engagement.
- Work Breakdown Structure/ Schedule Diagram - this is an important piece, it’s essentially the visual timeline that outlines the work to be done over a set timeframe. This will most likely evolve as you progress through your project, but think of this more like your road map. You may not follow it to a “T”, but it’s always there to keep you on track to achieving your end goal.
- Budget/Resources - you’ll want to talk to your client about any additional resources or funding they are going to provide to support the project and project activities
- Quality Plan Matrix - what/how how are you going to ensure that your project meets the necessary quality for a successful outcome? [see Google for great examples]
- Risk/Constraint Management Plan - identify what the risks and constraints that are associated to your project success and how they should be avoided and mitigated [see Google for great examples]
There you have it! Five simple steps that you and your team can start implementing today to ensure you have a great project engagement with your employer!
Comments, questions or ideas on how to make industry project experiences even more successful? Let us know below!