In the first installment of this two-part series, we listed these six topics as the foundation of an IT consultant's self-training program:
- Management consulting and the management consulting profession
- Promotion and new business development
- Proposal planning, preparation, and presentation
- Project management and control techniques
- Developing substantive consulting skills
- Ethics in consulting
We also looked at resources that focused on the first two items in this list. Now let's turn our attention to the last four items in the list and explore resources that I find to be of great value to consultant development programs.
Proposal planning, preparation, and presentation
Proposal development is an area that can use improvement in almost every firm I've seen. RFPs or opportunities arise, and then the firm goes into fire-drill mode, pulling experts off of billable assignments and running in all directions to meet a prospect's aggressive timeline.
In proposal planning and preparation, there's one book that I think stands out above the rest. Proposal Development by Bud Porter-Roth isn't consultant-focused, but it offers the clearest and most structured approach to proposal development, from the detailed review of the RFP or opportunity, through the organization of the firm in order to respond to bids efficiently. By offering a complete scenario from RFP to completed bid, and illustrating ideas with examples and samples, this book is my top pick for helping firms or individual consultants inject some discipline into their proposal process. I've used this book for years as the basis of my training and coaching.
Project management and control techniques
While the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), the basis of the Project Management Institute's certification program, is the fundamental text in this discipline, it has a few flaws for our purposes. Since it's not IT focused, its concepts are quite broad and abstract. Its focus on the underlying competencies (which are important) doesn't address a lot of the real-world issues that we see as IT project managers. While the latest edition (the 4th) is more friendly towards the iterative, incremental project processes that underlie agile development, it's still geared towards a process-intensive, linear development path.
Project Management is obviously a huge topic. After teaching IT Project Management at my local community college for a few years, these are the texts that my students have found useful:
- Information Technology Project Management: Although it's a bit expensive, this text by Kathy Schwalbe does the best job of integrating PMI concepts with IT-focused case studies and exercises.
- Radical Project Management: For starting the migration from traditional project management towards more agile, iterative methods, this book by Rob Thomsett is indispensable. For many of today's agile practitioners, this book was a revelation, bridging the gap from waterfall methodologies to more adaptive techniques.
- Rapid Development and Software Project Survival Guide: For consultants who focus on software development, all the books in the series by Steve McConnell are fundamental.
Developing substantive consulting skills
The development of substantive consulting skills requires some explanation. My perspective is that these skills encompass a wide swath of capabilities, from tactical skills such as facilitation and presentation, to strategic skills like governance and strategic planning. I believe that a strong consultant should have some grounding in both of these areas, but obviously the mix depends on the engagements a consultant pursues.
Whether a consultant is primarily performing technical tasks such as solution development or infrastructure design, or is working with IT executives to create an IT roadmap, some basic skills in both areas are critical.
On the tactical side, skills such as facilitation and presentation are required, if only to gain consensus and sell your solutions to stakeholders. In these areas, I swear by Facilitating with Ease! by Ingrid Bens and Inspire Any Audience by Tony Jeary. Both books present a clear, concise, and easy-to-grasp framework for improving these tactical skills.
On the strategic side, the classic is Flawless Consulting by Peter Block. The author has provided generations of consultants with the practical skills of client engagement with humor and real-world scenarios that every practitioner will recognize. Less widely known but, in my view, just as valuable, is High-Impact Consulting by Robert Schaffer, which focuses on the difference between academic-style "deliver a white paper and let the client figure it out" consulting, and consulting that really changes the client's business for the better.
Ethics in consulting
While many other professionals, from doctors to lawyers, have codes or professional ethics that they pledge to follow, for consultants there's no governing body or accepted norm. The best ethical code I've found (though it doesn't apply specifically to IT consultants) is offered by the Association of Management Consulting Firms. Simply stated, it presents a code that binds us, as professionals, to honor our client's confidentiality, to act with scrupulous integrity, and to stay focused on the best interests of our clients at all times. As we look to the events of the last decade, from Enron and WorldCom to the fall of Lehman Brothers, the need for a clear and comprehensive ethical code is obvious, not just to protect our clients, but to protect the image of all consultants and professional advisors everywhere. I also recommend that you check out TechRepublic contributor Chip Camden's code of ethics that he presents to his clients.Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!
Rick Freedman is the author of three books on IT consulting, including "The IT Consultant." Rick is an independent consultant and trainer, working, through his company Consulting Strategies Inc., to help agile teams and organizations understand agile practices and migrate successfully.