Leadership

Five tips on managing consultants

An outside consultant can offer the expertise that makes the difference between a winning project and a loser. Before your external code guru starts cranking out lines of code, make sure your in-house staff doesn't revolt.

Consultants are a fact of life in many software development shops. When your short- or middle-term project demands specialized skills, you can save money in the long run by bringing in an outside consultant who has the skills your staff may not have. After you find the expertise and screen the candidates, your biggest challenge is how to successfully integrate a consultant into your team. Here are some tips for making sure the contractor works well with your full-timers:
  • Respect the full-timers’ turf. Your team may not like it if the outside guy comes in and starts calling the shots. Always bring the prospective consultants in for a couple of introductory meetings. Make it clear that the entire development process is not in danger of being outsourced.
  • Clearly define the consultant’s role. Don’t expect the developer to magically fix everything that’s broken or build everything you need.
  • Assign a mentor. A senior developer on staff should shadow the consultant. If the consultant leaves without notice (as frequently happens), you’ll need someone in-house who can pick up where the consultant left off.
  • Document everything. Make it clear how much documentation you expect the consultant to produce, and insist that the work be completed. When the consultant leaves, no matter what the reason or the timing, you need a written record of the work he or she was doing.
  • Monitor the time sheets. Keep a close watch on hours billed by a consultant. Detailed tracking of how consultant time is spent should be a no-brainer. There’s one sure-fire way to breed resentment toward any consultant, and that’s to create the perception that he or she is collecting a fat check and not earning it.

Well-chosen and well-utilized consultants can make the difference between a project’s success and failure. The burden is on you to utilize the consultant resources wisely.

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