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The 10 commandments of IT consulting success

Steven A. Lowe | May 27, 2015
Thou shall surmount epic hurdles in your next tech gig, thanks to these sage tips.

2. Listen for the unexpected

When starting a consulting gig, there is always too much to absorb. What is the nature of the technical environment? Who are the people on site with the greatest insight into the problems you need to solve? Where are there opportunities to rework processes to better ends? What technical and bureaucratic constraints are you dealing with? How much of what the client hopes to accomplish is a pipe dream?

Your first duty is to actively listen, so your understanding of the project, the players, and the environment is shared. But you need to be discerning. Much of what you hear will be run-of-the-mill, and some will be outright speculation and fantasy. Absorb these, but don't dwell on them. The ordinary parts of the system may hide surprises, but you can't dig into every detail right away. Instead, keep the conversation going to cover as much of the high ground as possible.

While you are doing this, make special note of any unexpected or unusual issues that arise. These can be both a problem and an opportunity. For example, having to talk to a back-end ERP system is fairly ordinary, but having to talk to it by directly manipulating its database is not, and it may cause significant bottlenecks and interface issues.

3. Reserve judgment

Don't shoot down the client's ideas on technicalities right out of the gate simply to look smart. The point isn't to tell them why their idea won't work; the point is to understand where they are trying to go with their idea, and to find a better way to help them get there. There will be time to get into technical details as the gig evolves, but the outset is for absorbing the bigger picture. Debating details or shrugging off what you perceive to be a "bad" idea will blind you to the kernel of a good idea hidden within.

For example, let's say the idea of simulating the entire complex production environment in the cloud is proposed as a way of testing deployments. Likely, doing so would be unfeasible for technical reasons, but it has the kernel of a good idea buried within: perhaps we can deploy to the cloud instead of the existing complex production environment? The possible answer: not yet -- but it could be a good move worth putting on the table.

4. Technology is not holy

There is nothing special about a particular technology that makes using it more important than achieving the client's success. Resist the temptation of shiny things that do not matter. Instead, advocate for the practical tools that do matter. Industry awards and accolades are far less important than a functioning system. Consider the client's constraints and future plans to use the right tools for the right jobs, with respect for both.


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