I apologize if this is a question of ignorance, but so far in my studies of Buddhism I have been mainly studying the teachings, the scriptures, or guides on meditation, etc. however I don't know much about the system of progression in Vajrayana.
What I am getting at is, what is the typical process towards higher initiations and empowerment for the novice? Where does a monk or lay practitioner begin and how many years is it before the "higher" teachings and initiations are revealed to him? Is there a guide to this process and the typical amount of time/years one needs to practice on a particular step before moving to the next step? Say for someone interested in Dzogchen, what would be the typical path of progression? Is this a uniform process or is it unique to each individual based upon the gurus recognition of the students inner state? For example, there obviously must be individuals who step on the path with comparatively little experience of higher states of consciousness or knowledge of Buddhist teachings, so is the progression a uniform process or individually unique?
If your lama is a Dzogchen master... on paper the path wold be ngondro, intensive deity yoga practices, perhaps tsa lung or not, dzogchen ngondro, trekchod, togal. In reality, today probably focus on ngondro first, then concurrently with that get some Dzogchen instruction, then focus on trekchod for many years and doing deity practices as you wish, or as the lama recommends. Not many lamas are qualified to teach Dzogchen. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche and a few others have other gateways into Dzogchen.
There will be individual adaptations as the lama comes to know you personally and what your obstacles are. Remedial practices, such as specific deity practices, may be advised for you.
Guru Yoga is the main practice of the Vajrayana and Dzogchen from beginning to end. So, you gotta have a great guru and one that you can come to trust and view purely.