A big part of my job involves coaching or mentoring other IT professionals - sometimes members of our own team at Lucid, but often, professionals within other businesses we're asked to help.
Here are a few things I've learned along the way which set the really good professionals and consultants apart from the rest.
Never be wrong
Your clients engage a consultant because they want the right answers to their questions. Your answers must always be based in evidence and research - and if they're asking for an opinion, include some of your real world experience.
The advice you give to your clients helps inform their actions; helps inform them about where to commit budget; helps inform long term purchasing decisions. Important and long-lasting business decisions.
Make sure your advice or answers are always correct; opinions are supported with evidence and explained in terms your client understands. Don't commit anything to paper unless you're absolutely sure it's not wrong and you can back it up with sources.
And if you don't know the answer, don't make it up on the spot - tell the questioner you don't know and you'll get back to them. They'll respect you more for it.
Keeping your skills current is vital to stay ahead of the game in any profession, but many people find it incredibly difficult to make time for professional development - myself included.
Some people respond better to classroom training; others online or written materials. Whatever your preference, make time for it away from your desk where there are fewer distractions to pull you back into your normal day.
Especially in IT, it can be easy to focus on vendor certification and examinations. For sure, these are important and valuable sources of knowledge, but make time for unstructured learning too.
Reading around your subject from authoritative or well peer-reviewed sources is a great source of the wider knowledge that sets a good consultant apart from other professionals.
Too many good IT professionals avoid asking questions because:
- They're afraid of appearing "stupid"
- They're afraid of appearing too forward or direct
- They believe others must surely have asked this questions already.
There's no such thing as a stupid question in the workplace. Your ability to ask (the right, hopefully insightful) questions is why your clients hire you.
Questions build your knowledge. And quite often, they help others to identify parts of their plans which could be improved or haven't been considered fully.
Think and plan before you act
An experienced consultant has the experience to know they don't know everything. Write a plan for every project, even small ones. In IT, where even small tasks can be complex with many steps, plan everything, especially if you've not done it before.
Complex processes or tasks need to be approached carefully, and with planning. Rushing into a task or project without planning leads to mistakes, and mistakes cost time and money (your client's, your employer's, or your own) to fix.
Building a written plan helps you think through all the aspects of a project or proposal before you act, and enables you to see the problems before they occur.
Pay Attention to Detail
The reason your clients engage a consultant is because they know you will be thorough, rigorous and will explore all the possible options in their plans or ideas.
Cost all the options
Plan for every type of failure.
Produce documents, lists and project plans and ensure every single detail is included.
See the future
OK, so you can't really see the future, but almost.
A good consultant should have many years of experience and as a result, will have seen most technologies and fixed many problems - many times over.
When seen a piece of work many times, you can *almost* predict the future.