During a brief foray into the world of IT consulting last fall, I got to watch a really great consultant in action. Sure, he’s a Solutions Architect and Partner at SCM Connections with 20 something projects under his belt and 15+ years of experience in the industry. But what makes him a really strong consultant isn’t just his experience and expertise, it’s something extra.
So what’s the difference between a good consultant and a great one? Here’s our list.
The best consultants:
- They’re paranoid. They anticipate and plan for EVERYTHING. As one consultant described it, it’s your job as a consultant to flank both sides of the client and make sure he has answers to the unforeseen questions that will inevitably come his way.
- They’re good politicians. They understand the political dynamics at the client, but they don’t get involved and they don’t get wrapped up in it. When Thursday afternoon rolls around, they can check out without taking home the political baggage.
- They’re genuinely nice. Sounds weird, right? It’s actually not. A good consultant knows that his network is only as strong as his reputation, his experience and his connections. Even if he’s the best solutions architect out there, if he’s hard to get along with, clients and colleagues will remember that and the next time he’s interviewing, his reputation will follow him.
- They know who makes the decisions. In the first two to three weeks, they write out two org charts for themselves: one is an official org chart, and one is the real org chart: the real chain of command, who really makes the decisions, who are the real influencers, etc. Both are equally important to be aware of.
- They don’t get attached. So many consultants want to mark off their piece of the project and guard it ruthlessly so they can see their name all over it when they’re done. This might be a good strategy if you’re an employee wanting to rise through the ranks, but if you’re a consultant, you might have to walk away at any time and then what happens to your piece? Inevitably, it’ll get “cleaned up” by the next consultant who may or may not understand why you did things the way you did them.
- It takes a village. Good ones rely on their network for the unforeseen. When the inevitable APO module that they haven’t worked on comes in to play, they have a list of other guys they can call to walk them through it. They might not know every single module in SAP APO, for instance (because really, who does?) but they sure know who they can call when something comes up.
- They’re renaissance men (and women). They’re deep in one or two areas but can navigate through others. The best consultants are excellent at what they do, but they’re also constantly looking for more training and projects that will expose them to other parts of the business.
- They’re bilingual. They speak the language of IT AND business. It’s a rare breed, but the consultant who can speak both IT and business does well in an environment where you need both the business savvy and the IT knowledge to architect and implement the right solution. If you can’t speak both fluently, your value to the client has a ceiling that’s hard to break.
- They’re doers. They like to get their hands dirty. When we were building our website recently, one of our partners worked until midnight for days on end learning how to work with WordPress, fine-tuning images in Photoshop and learning what the best websites out there were doing. Could he have handed the project over to a junior team member? But he wanted to understand how it worked and put things together with his own hands. And that’s part of why they’re consultants; they don’t want to delegate to others, they’re curious and want to see how things work for themselves.
- They keep things in perspective. The best consultants know what to sweat and what to let go of. When their time is being pulled in 17 different directions, they know how to cut through the noise and listen to what the client is really saying and what they really need, and then figures out how to make that happen.