My career in technology

Consulting skills

At the A-SPIN meeting in August, the discussion came around to skillsets of the various roles around product management – SMEs, Business Analyst, Product Visionary, Product Architect, Product Manger, and other roles in that space (there is a writeup of the meeting for the A-SPIN website). While there is a lot of dependence on the “hard skills” like domain knowledge (accounting skills for an accounting program, or industry knowledge for an industry-specific program), as well as the programming and software architecture skills, a lot of the talk was centered around the “soft skills” – communication, patience, listening skills, negotiation skills, and the ability to set one’s own ego aside in order to make the best decisions for the project/product.

These skills are crucial for the obvious reasons – if an SME cannot communicate the business needs to the development team, the requirements won’t be properly understood by the team and the product won’t address the business needs; friction between competing interests can cause delays and other problems;  becoming too attached to your own solution can cause missed opportunities for better or more effective solutions, as well as increased friction.  And all of these skills aren’t easily teachable.

Christine Lambden, of Consulting Stance, was there and pointed out that these are the same skills that successful consultants need to have,  which led me to think about my own consulting experiences.

I’ve had the job title “Consultant” several times, though I’ve never been an independent consultant.  When I’ve worked as a consultant, I’ve always worked for an established consultancy.  (Which means I haven’t had an opportunity to learn or use some of the skills Christine teaches in her seminars at Consulting Stance).  “Consultant” as applied in established consultancies can mean a variety of thing in terms of actual job responsibilities.  In some instances, this meant that what I was doing was more focused on implementation (being given a set of detailed requirements and given the task for fulfilling them).  Other times, it was full-lifecycle – come to a client, diagnose their problem and where improvements can be made, then execute the implementation and train the end-users to use the solution.  More recently, its been more “pure” consulting – give the client the benefit of my experience and understanding with advice and options so that they can implement the solutions themselves.

I had the opportunity recently attend Christine’s seminar.  I got a lot out of it, including a better understanding of some of the things I have already been doing without really understanding the thinking behind it.  And I made an interesting connection to something that Brian Massey says in his book, The Market for Me – we need to see ourselves as “Skills Holders” not “Job Seekers”.  Just as the skills needed to be a successful employee in the analyst/product manager/product architect space are the skills that are so valuable for consultants to have, the consultant’s skills are the same ones valued in many employees, and the lessons I learned about consulting from the seminar will be valuable as an employee.  And, as a “Skills Holder”, in many ways I am a consultant to my employer – they hired me because of my expertise in my field.  They need my advice and vision to find solutions as well as my ability to implement them!

In the coming weeks, I intend to post about several consulting experiences and lessons learned.  Stay tuned!

Jim Adcock is Vice President of Launch Pad Job Club, an organization in Austin, Texas, whose mission is help people who have lost their jobs to get the skills they need to land their next job, and to help them cope with the interim between jobs. Check out other career-related entries.

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