Luckily I have been working fairly consistently with the same client lately. This means that I haven’t had to constantly jot down notes during meetings on things to look up afterward, find corporate maps so I don’t get lost in symmetrical buildings with no windows, or remember not to call the client by the previous engagement’s name.
I was asked recently how I plan on dealing with being dropped into a new environment with a different client. Well, if there were no deadlines and nothing to get done, I would just read documentation all day. Even that would only go so far though. I have no expectations that existing documentation is comprehensive or understandable. It will most likely be the case that you will be creating documentation that others will use when trying to grasp the environment.
So in this world of yesterday deadlines we have to learn things on the go. This means that when I land, I have to get my hands on a systems context diagram so that I can understand what talks to what. From there I can ask who the SMEs are for the different systems and piece together what the systems are for and what they actually do in implementation. This should be the biggest chunk of ramp time, figuring out what systems do so you can understand why you are doing something to change them.
The other obstacles to starting with a new client are regulations and business practices. You will never be able to know all of them. Because it takes multiple subject matter experts to own these, your best course of action is to familiarize yourself enough so that you can flag potential areas for the SMEs to fill in. As much as possible, try to incorporate these rules into your diagrams.
The key is that you never want to be reading up on things for the sake of reading up on them. You always want to be actively producing a deliverable. So reading the interface documentation for the sales system should be helping you gather the first set of gap requirements.