Do consulting skills really matter in IT?

Effective consulting skills are in real demand across the IT sector. In a series of meetings I’ve had with IT directors recently, it’s become increasingly clear to me that the successful 2010 “geek” is increasingly aware of the need to deliver real business value by solving “people problems” as well as technical challenges, and is repositioning himself accordingly.

Managers and recruiters are increasingly seeking evidence that applicants can:
• Communicate effectively, orally and in writing
• Work effectively with groups and teams
• Collaborate to solve problems and develop solutions
• Ask questions that go beyond the obvious
• Take a broad business perspective
• Build and manage relationships with clients, users, and colleagues.

As Eric Lundquist wrote in eWeek, introducing research into the top skills IT managers look for in new hires: “Turns out the hours you spent becoming an AJAX expert don’t count for nearly as much as being able to show you have a sense of ethics, can communicate in person instead of on Twitter, and can work with a group of people.”

So, how to improve your consulting skills? Particularly in the IT sector, it seems to be assumed that you’ll just pick them up along the way, and the fact you can speak well in a job interview is somehow taken as evidence that you can facilitate a requirements workshop.

But spending time learning these skills makes a significant difference. I’ve seen it, as I’ve been training people over the last five years. Even an hour or two of training can make a difference: suddenly, the consultant’s attention is fully focussed on his clients, users, colleagues or other stakeholders, rather than on the pre-planned technological solution he has up his sleeve, and he starts to grasp their real problems.

That means he’s working with more real data: what’s important to the business, what’s a “must have”, what’s “nice to have”. And almost inevitably, that means more brilliant solutions that can lead to real change.

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