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THE JOURNEY FROM PRACTITIONER TO CONSULTANT
Practitioners in the fields of business analysis and project management follow a common career path. You begin, of course, as an entry-level novice. As you gradually accumulate knowledge and skills through both work experience and professional development activities, you move to an experienced intermediate, or journeyman, level of proficiency. Ultimately, you might become an advanced, expert-level business analyst (BA) or project manager (PM).
Senior BAs are recognized by their colleagues as experts in numerous analysis techniques. Their peers look to them for advice and assistance. Advanced BAs often are selected by management to spearhead changes in processes or methodologies on the organization's projects. It's an important — and valued — position to achieve.
But then what? To where do you steer your career from being a respected internal expert? Some people take their unique skill sets, organizational knowledge, business acumen, and technical knowledge and become successful business analysis consultants, trainers, and entrepreneurs. The path to consultant is paved with expertise in business analysis, product management, project management, process improvement, leadership, software development, and other areas of information technology (IT). Whether working as an employee of an established consulting firm in this industry or going it alone in a company of one, consulting offers the highly talented BA a fulfilling — and challenging — career opportunity.
WHY THIS BOOK?
There are many books on consulting written by business people who successfully climbed the corporate ladder to a senior management level and were among the fortunate few to achieve success in consulting. However, I noticed a significant void in the current consulting literature geared toward practitioners in technical fields, most noticeably in business analysis and project management. You don't need to become a corporate executive before launching a career as an IT consultant. But you do need deep knowledge, broad experience, good observational abilities, and excellent communication skills.
I have been self-employed full-time as a software consultant since early 1998. Without necessarily planning to, I wound up specializing in software requirements and business analysis, project management, software quality, and process improvement. I began doing this sort of work even before going independent, while I was still working for a large corporation. This let me wade into the pool instead of diving straight into the deep end.
I wrote this book to share the many insights I have accumulated over the years, sometimes through the painful experience of making mistakes. This is the kind of book I wish was available before I decided to give consulting a try. Several other seasoned consultants with IT backgrounds also contributed chapters to this book to share their own experiences and perspectives. The information we present will reduce both your learning curve and the fear factor when you decide to test the waters as an independent consultant.
The examples and stories in this book come from my personal experience and those of my contributing authors working in the worlds of both traditional and agile business analysis, project management, and software development. The strategies and tips provided apply both to the practicing consultant and to those planning to make the transition to independent consultant in nearly any field. Even if independent consulting isn't in your immediate future, you'll discover many useful suggestions here about giving presentations, writing for publication, and working with others.
CONSULTING IN THE IT INDUSTRY
The IT industry has an abundance of consultants who perform many types of work. Some become well known in their domain, publish popular books, become featured speakers at conferences worldwide, and earn impressive incomes. Others find that they just don't get enough business to stay afloat and have to go back to regular employment. Many independent consultants relish the diversity of the work, with its many opportunities to collect and leverage insights from their clients and to influence both practitioners in their field and the field in general. Others discover that the travel is grueling, frequent absences are hard on family life, and having an unpredictable income is unsettling. Consulting is not for everyone, but it can be a fun, rewarding, and lucrative career for those who learn how to make it work for them.
Perhaps you've heard this rather disparaging saying: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." I extend this by adding, "Those who did, consult." The effective consultant has a breadth and depth of experience in his or her field, the skill to assess a situation quickly and diagnose the root causes of problems, and the ability to convey new ways of working to clients so they achieve better business outcomes. Consultants must be adaptable, able to choose the right techniques from their tool kits to suit each client's needs and culture. By working with diverse clients, effective consultants soon recognize patterns of common problems and solutions that span organizations and business domains.
Having a wide range of project experience helps prepare you for a consulting career. But there's more to it than that — simply being very good at what you do doesn't necessarily make you a great consultant. You must be familiar with a rich suite of techniques in your field, so you can help people tackle many different kinds of problems effectively. You need to keep up with the literature in your domain, so you know about important topics and trends and can advise organizations based on the best available wisdom.
An effective consultant can distinguish practical techniques that we know are effective from the latest buzzword-laden fad. As a skilled observer, a good consultant notices what works and what doesn't work in various situations and synthesizes that knowledge into practical solutions. On top of all this, a consultant must be a credible and talented communicator who can pass along frank observations about an organization's shortcomings and gently persuade clients to try new methods.
People in IT use the term consultant in various ways. I have a friend who is a true software development consultant. He's one of the world's leading experts in a particular programming language. He doesn't build software for clients, but he is highly respected as an authority who can come into an organization and convey deep insights that help developers solve leading-edge problems in that language. On the other hand, many software development consultants are really independent contractors who are self-employed and find their own jobs writing code for one client after another.
Some BAs also work as independent contractors, coming into an organization for a period of time and performing BA services on development projects, either on their own or as part of a BA team. Business analysis naturally lends itself to this form of consulting since the team role is not necessarily full-time throughout the entire duration of the project and BAs are accustomed to moving from project to project. True expert consultants, though, might lead and coach a team of BAs. They could deliver training, or they may assess and then advise organizations about how to tune up their current BA practices and address performance shortcomings. Consultants will sometimes help develop and instill new techniques into organizations and steer them to a more sophisticated business analysis culture.
Similarly, project management consultants can either work on contract, leading one project after another, or they can train and coach the organization's own PMs to enhance their effectiveness. Some PM consultants specialize in project recovery — coming in to get a struggling project back on track.
Still other kinds of IT consultants focus on process improvement or change leadership, helping organizations evolve. Or, they might specialize in particular areas of software development, such as architecture, software design, database development, or testing. Some experts help their clients learn to use specific languages, methodologies, or development tools. The varieties of IT consulting match the varieties of IT work.
Both business analyst and project manager are project roles. Someone must perform these essential tasks on every project. They might have the corresponding job title (or an equivalent, such as requirements engineer, requirements analyst, or systems analyst), or they might do it along with other project responsibilities, such as coding or quality assurance. Traditional software teams often are accustomed to having these roles staffed by specialists, whereas BA and PM responsibilities may be distributed across multiple individuals on agile development teams. As projects become larger and more complex, the need for team members who are very good at business analysis and project management increases. Organizations that lack BA or PM expertise can benefit from bringing in consultants in those areas to educate and advise. That's where you come in.
The diversity of independent consulting experiences is practically boundless. You can guide your career in whatever direction you like, taking best advantage of the kinds of work you find most satisfying — so long as the phone rings enough to keep you in business.
HOW I GOT HERE
By way of background, let me describe how I got started in the consulting business. After obtaining a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Illinois, I began my professional career in 1979 as a research scientist at Kodak in Rochester, New York. Computer programming was my second interest after chemistry; one-third of my PhD thesis was code. For several reasons, I moved into software development full-time at Kodak in 1984. Six years later, I took over as the manager of my small software group.
I began learning as much as I could about software process improvement through books, periodicals, and conferences. Soon I found myself helping other groups inside Kodak with various aspects of software development, thus serving as an internal consultant and trainer. This ultimately led to a position guiding software process improvement efforts in one of Kodak's digital imaging technology areas. Shortly before I left the company, I was leading process improvements in Kodak's web development group, the people who bring you kodak.com.
In 1991, I began speaking at conferences, while continuing to write magazine articles about various aspects of software engineering. Three years later I received my first invitation to speak at another company on some of the work I'd been writing about. More of these types of opportunities arose, thanks to my increasing visibility as an author and speaker. Before long I was delivering training and consulting services for other companies on my vacation time, while still working full-time at Kodak. This was all done with my management's knowledge and approval. It was a comfortable way to ease into a consulting career.
My first book, Creating a Software Engineering Culture, was published in 1996, while I was still at Kodak. Shortly thereafter, a well-known software consultant asked when I was going to leave the corporate world and hang out a shingle as an independent consultant. My initial reaction was that this seemed pretty risky, considering that I like to eat every day. But after reflection, I decided to give it a shot.
I officially launched my one-person consulting company — Process Impact — in December of 1997. A few months later I left Kodak to see how things might go on my own. I figured I could always get a real job again if consulting didn't work out for whatever reason. As it happened, being an independent consultant, trainer, and author has worked out just fine.
Some consultants find work through agencies. Others are employed by a company that contracts their consulting services out to clients. However, with one six-month exception very early on, I've always worked entirely on my own through Process Impact. (Incidentally, I have found that, even in a one-person company, management is uninformed and unreasonable, and the staff is lazy and has a bad attitude.) When I started out, I knew little about this new mode of employment, yet I had few resources from which to learn.
I did learn several things about consulting early on. First, I was fortunate to get plenty of work. That was a relief, as many new consultants struggle to stay afloat. Second, I found that I really enjoyed the flexibility of being self-employed. While at Kodak, I concluded that I do not need to be managed and I do not enjoy being a manager, so self-employment in a one-person shop suits me well. And third, I discovered that there's a lot to learn about being a self-employed, self-managed independent consultant.
Many of the strategies and tips in this book will also be useful to practitioners — sometimes called consultants — who are engaged in staff-augmentation contracting relationships as temporary corporate or government employees. Certain topics covered here might not be as important to consultants who work for larger companies rather than being self-employed. But even if you aren't on your own at the moment, someday you might be.
CASTING A LARGE NET FOR KNOWLEDGE
When I told my Kodak colleagues I was going to give consulting a shot, someone asked how I'd be able to keep up with what was happening in the software industry if I didn't work on projects anymore. That was an interesting question I hadn't considered. However, I quickly realized that, as a consultant, I could see how many projects and organizations operated, instead of just observing a few projects in one company for a prolonged period. Instead of making every mistake and climbing every learning curve myself, I could learn by looking over other people's shoulders. Everyone I met at a client site, conference, or professional society meeting was a potential source of knowledge.
Visiting a wide variety of companies was far more informative than working inside a single microcosm with people steeped in the same corporate culture. It let me collect a breadth of information that I could then share with others, for a very reasonable price. I'm pretty good at synthesizing knowledge from multiple sources, packaging it, and delivering it in a practical and accessible way. That's the essence of being a consultant.
There was a second unobvious aspect regarding the knowledge you can — and cannot — acquire through consulting. I've done a lot of work in the field of software requirements over the years. People occasionally ask me, "Karl, what do the companies that are really good at requirements do?"
My reply is, "I don't know; they don't call me." That is, my clients are always people who know they want to improve how their teams perform certain aspects of their work. They invite me in to help assess those opportunities, provide knowledge through training or coaching, and assist them in migrating toward better ways of working. Companies that are already confident in their business analysis capabilities don't ask me to work with them. Hence, I have no way to learn what's working well for them unless they publish their experiences for all to see.
The other people who never call me are those who either aren't even aware that they have problems or don't opt to address them. It's hard to sell a better mousetrap to people who don't realize they have mice.
HOW THIS BOOK IS ORGANIZED
This book contains 35 chapters that are grouped into six parts. Part I (Setting Up Shop) addresses laying the foundation for your consulting business, including letting the world know you're open for business, several different modes of consulting engagements, and the impacts that being a self-employed consultant can have on your life and your family. Another chapter offers some comments on participating in professional organizations, both as a way to find possible clients and to pursue relevant professional certifications.
Part II (On the Job) covers many realities that I had to learn through trial and error; the errors weren't that much fun. Chapters address using checklists to keep all the activities you're juggling under control, techniques for engaging with clients in various situations, descriptions of some ideal clients, and some warnings about clients who can cause headaches for you and how to deal with them.
In Part III (Practicalities) you'll find valuable tips for such essentials as setting rates, managing your finances, and negotiating and crafting written agreements with your clients. Other chapters discuss establishing business policies and the important topic of purchasing appropriate insurance coverages. You might have the opportunity someday to partner with another consultant on a larger project, so I'll share some tips about how to make such arrangements work well.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Successful Business Analysis Consulting"
Copyright © 2019 Karl Wiegers.
Excerpted by permission of J. Ross Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Read the Reviews,
About the Author,
Contributing Author Biographies,
PART I: Setting Up Shop,
Chapter 1: The Journey from Practitioner to Consultant,
Chapter 2: Hanging Out the Shingle,
Chapter 3: Hey, World, Here I Am!,
Chapter 4: Participating in Professional Organizations with Joy Beatty,
Chapter 5: Modes of Consulting: What's Your Preference?,
Chapter 6: The Consulting Lifestyle By Gary K. Evans,
PART II: On the Job,
Chapter 7: Make a List, Check It Twice,
Chapter 8: No Easy Answers,
Chapter 9: Consultants as Legitimate Leaders: The Goldilocks Approach By Jeanette Pigeon,
Chapter 10: OMG, What Have I Done?! Anticipating Risks When Working with Others By Vicki James,
Chapter 11: The Dream Client,
Chapter 12: Clients Who Give You Grief,
Chapter 13: Difficult Client? Try These Quick Tips By Margaret Meloni,
PART III: Practicalities,
Chapter 14: What Are You Worth?,
Chapter 15: Money Matters for the New Consultant By Gary K. Evans,
Chapter 16: Get It in Writing,
Chapter 17: Everything's Negotiable,
Chapter 18: When One is Not Enough,
Chapter 19: It's a Matter of Policy,
Chapter 20: For Your Protection with Gary K. Evans,
PART IV: Building the Business,
Chapter 21: A Kind of Business Plan,
Chapter 22: Be Prepared for the Unexpected By Claudia Dencker,
Chapter 23: How to Get Repeat Business from Your Clients By Adriana Beal,
Chapter 24: The Challenges of Remote Consulting,
PART V: Media Matters,
Chapter 25: Out of One, Many,
Chapter 26: On Intellectual Property,
Chapter 27: Seventeen Tips for Becoming a Confident Presenter,
Chapter 28: Some Presentation Tricks I Have Learned,
PART VI: Writing Your Way to Success,
Chapter 29: You Are What You Write,
Chapter 30: Four Eyes Are Better Than Two,
Chapter 31: Writing for Magazines, Websites, and Blogs,
Chapter 32: You Say You Want to Write a Book?,
Chapter 33: Getting Your Book Into Print,
Chapter 34: Being Your Own Publisher,
Chapter 35: On Co-Authoring a Book,