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How to go from coder to consultant

Matthew Heusser | Sept. 11, 2015
If you've had it with office life – or office life has had it with you – maybe it’s time to become an IT consultant. Here’s how to avoid the pitfalls along your path…and some tips to get started.

Or do this when you transfer departments. You can scope this so there isn’t a great loss of face. Say, for example, you’re transferring from the Unix Admin team to the Windows team. Everyone respects you as smart, and they recognize you have things to learn. Instead of trying to learn a lot, ask to conduct a task analysis of the job as it exists, and compare that to the existing documentation. You'll come up with gaps that are what employees need to do to learn the job. That doesn't mean the manager or the employees are doing a bad job – just that they haven’t documented how to do the work. Once you've completed that analysis, take that approach to other areas. Don't just follow the process: challenge it, point out areas to improve it. 

You can do the same type of work when you start a new job. Point out the advantage of a fresh set of eyes, ask for the long-term vision for the team, then do an analysis on what to improve next. 

Kinds of consulting assignments 

Let's go back to that gap analysis. 

It starts with figuring out the goal, the end state, which means asking where the company wants to be. From there, examine the current state to find the gaps. I'd typically create a report which lists the gaps along with recommendations to improve. When we create these at my consulting company, Excelon Development, we try to make sure there are a few things the client can do themselves, without our help. We also provide a menu of services we think might help the company accomplish the objective. 

We also do this in a way that the company could take that menu across the street to our competitors, which is fine. We find clients don't do this often, and those that do probably won't make the best clients. Sometimes, as in a recent project with a mid-Michigan software firm, we genuinely believe that a Pillar or a Leandog (rival consulting companies) might perform a certain service better than we can. You have to know when you’re out of your element, and it makes the client trust you more. 

As an internal consultant, you can do all the same things, and you're much more likely to win the job to fix the gaps. 

One tool to conduct a gap report is the SWOT analysis, which lists the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to any given project. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal; Opportunities and Threats are external. The assessment doesn't need to be done at the team level. We've done test assessments, for example, where the opportunities and threats were outside of the test but within the organization, along with listing outside-organization industry trends.


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