What makes an IT PM consultant a good IT PM consultant? What makes that individual one that clients keep coming back to for consulting and leadership expertise? Why do new clients sign on?
The easy answer, of course, is just plain technical expertise. An IT project management consultant who can deliver the goods technically will likely always be in demand somewhere, no matter what the state of the economy. In the worst of the worst in this economy, if all the IT money stops flowing, the technical consultant with the most certifications who can really bring the best technical solution to the table will still have some work in front of them.
In my opinion and experience, a few of the key characteristics that make for a good consultant include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Entrepreneurial edge
- Innate ability to lead
- Independent thinking
- Problem-solving abilities
- High level of confidence
- Key expertise in one or more critical areas
Taken as a whole, these would seem like someone you would want to have on your team whether they were a consultant or an employee, right? Not necessarily. Let’s consider the difference between the consultant and the employee. I’m an IT consultant who sort of rides the fence between consultant and employee depending on what’s happening at the moment – what opportunities are laying in front of me. I definitely have an entrepreneurial edge. I have the ability to lead, which has served me very well, on all of my project management activities. I’m a good problem solver and I ask driving questions to get to the heart of the issue as quickly as possible. I’m confident in my abilities (my wife might characterize the consulting confidence as borderline narcissism at times – careful there…). And I have key expertise that certain organizations need.
The one that can be a consultant’s undoing – in my opinion, and from my own personal observation – is the independent thinking. My wife chuckles a little when I say that I’m going to do W2 work for an organization. But somehow I make it work – usually. I’ve seen many project management consultants try to make it work and fail, however. We are all supposed to submit to authority, correct? Well, that can be tough if you’re used to be in charge, being your own person, making things happen, and not looking for direction from someone who ‘directs’ rather than ‘does.’
Working as a project manager and placing yourself under the authority of a PMO director who lacks particular skills and experience but requires you to follow their direction can drive the free-thinking expert absolutely crazy. The scenario of consulting application developer who has become a direct employee and then is getting assignments that seem counter-productive from a supervisor with less experience and skills but carrying a Napoleon complex can really be a maddening experience.
Moving from the consulting role into ‘working for the man’ in a large organization isn’t always doomed to fail. Certainly not. But it will almost always take a decent amount of adjustment in terms of attitude, thinking, and ego.
The exception – and some of my favorite situations – is with startups. Whether you’re consulting for a startup or working directly for a startup, it usually doesn’t matter. The thinking, the attitude, the ego are all really the same. Startups often want the entrepreneurial type of employee that consultants bring to the table. They want you to fill several roles, where several hats, make quick key decisions and run with them. I’ll admit – I’ve struggled at times submitting to the authority of inexperienced leadership in large organizations while on the converse side I’ve been asked to come on board as a direct employee with startups that I’ve helped in consulting and project management roles.
The takeaway is, if you’re a freethinking, successful PM consultant and you’re thinking that the grass might be greener in this economy on the other side with the steady paycheck every two weeks just remember that there are things you might need to stop and consider. A detailed personal assessment will definitely be in order. And you need to ask yourself some tough questions. Can you submit yourself to that type of authority, no matter what the leadership looks like? Can you resist the desire to pull up stakes and leave if they just don’t ‘get it?’ Can you shelve your own ideas and desires to take over and run with it and go into employee mode? The PM consultant is usually looked to as the expert and because the company is paying dearly for that consultant they are usually asked first and treated like the person with the knowledge. That status changes when you become the employee. Just be sure you’re ok with that.