Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Three Reasons to Hire Consultants

Three Reasons to Hire ConsultantsConsultants are more than just developers with an hourly rate. In addition to honing their technical skills and staying abreast of the latest technology, successful consultants must develop valuable soft skills which are often sorely lacking in developers.

Time Management

When your client receives a bill for hours worked, the understanding is that each of those hours were spent doing something constructive for the client. Consultants are held to a much higher standard of productivity and must be self-motivated. Successful consultants learn to control their time by setting goals, defining and prioritizing actionable items, delegating duties, limiting distractions, and organizing information while managing these aspects within multiple projects or clients.

Problem Solving

In consulting, problem solving is where the rubber meets the road. Before a solution can be discussed, the consultant must first understand the problem and the conditions required for a successful solution. Consultants must have the ability to understand the client's industry and their role in it, the company's culture and expectations, business objectives, and processes. Only then can they consider the cost, risk and benefits to recommend a solution.

Communication

The ability to effectively communicate is by far the most important skill for an effective consultant.

Written Communication

The role of consultant inevitably involves the creation of estimates, statements of work, user stories, specifications, findings and recommendations, plans, trip reports, and hand-off documents. It's expected that these documents, as well as other written communication, be clear, succinct, orderly and unambiguous. They also have to write for a wide variety of audiences ranging from IT professionals to the CEO. This means the consultant must understand the interests of that audience and emphasize the relevant information. Some audiences will need additional context to understand complex topics while others simply need an executive summary. Often written communication involves skills beyond words, such as the creation of charts and diagrams. A good consultant determines the best method to convey their message to the desired audience.

Verbal Communication

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, three out of every four people suffer from speech anxiety. Consultants are required not only to overcome their anxiety, but to also hone their verbal communication skills by articulating and controlling their volume, pace, pitch, posture, facial expressions and eye contact. They must convey confidence without being arrogant and exhibit authority while remaining open to suggestions. Verbal communication involves not only speaking, but listening as well. Knowing when and how to ask questions is key. In order to craft the most effective solution to a problem, the consultant must understand the difficulties of their clients from multiple perspectives and present a solution that satisfies all parties.

While these skills are not unique to consultants, they are often more developed in those who make a living providing consulting services. What soft skills do you think are most important? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

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