7 Tips for ITSM Consultants
In this article, I hope to share with you some tips and guidelines picked up over many years as an IT service management consultant. I have been blessed with managers who led by example and would share experiences so that I could learn from them. Some of the advice was through lessons learned the hard way.
I hope this gives you the motivation to strive for excellence and to recover quickly from mishaps, accepting that they are a part and parcel of the road to success. There are some rules that can be broken. There are distinguishing factors that separate those who lag versus those who lead. My university degree back in 1997 was the soil bed and seeds. Everything else, I learned in the real world. I hope you can apply some of my advice to your own career.
Tip #1: Be Yourself
Sometimes a bad apple or two can spoil the barrel. The image of consultants being rough people who come with their “wonder” methodology and try forcing it on the masses and being paid far more than their value is unfortunately common.
By contrast, the majority of the consultants I know are quite down to earth people with a family life and care about the well-being of their clients. When you see how much personal time they need to invest in their jobs, the marginal increase in salaries is in most cases justifiable.
So my tip here is that when you are out as a consultant, be yourself. Keep a pleasant smile on your face. Prove to your stakeholders that you care about them, professionally and generally as people. Some years ago, I’d left my car lights on in the car park of a high security client site. I was surprised to have a senior manager from another department drive up and offer to help start my engine up.
Be attuned to the environment you work in — stay on the pulse of things — but don’t sacrifice your values. Your process documentation might be updated or replaced one day, but your smile and good rapport with your colleagues will always be remembered.
One of my mistakes has been trying to be perfect at what I do. Traveling and seeing people across the world helped broaden my perspective. I found that, in reality, everybody is like me. So be kind to others and to yourself as well!
Tip #2: Be Flexible
Once upon a time, I was placed on a large-scale and high-profile project. The client was one of the largest governmental ministries in the country and was undergoing some major technology transformation. This was quite early in my consulting career, so I was very much focused on the intellectual capital of my company and engrossed in how to tweak and develop it for the need of my customer.
The client had been left with an extensive assessment report extending beyond 150 pages of recommendations. My scope was going to be around enhancing maturity only of a couple of the ITIL processes. It was clear to me that the scope of work was not clear to any of the stakeholders. We had constraints and had to deliver tangible value.
One of the first things I did was to persuade the client manager that we would use the ISO 20000 standard as our reference, and he agreed. This was very helpful as our timelines were stringent and quantifying maturity increases using numerical methods was going to be artificial and not beneficial to our customer at that point of time. I also explained how we should focus on only a few key recommendations of the assessment report. This again was finally accepted. The project moved forward in a constructive manner, and the client agreed to increase budget spend for additional resources to help us cover the limited scope in a focused and effective manner.
What I learned here was that so many of our clients understand the problem very well. They are extremely intelligent people who know their environments. What they don’t always have though is clarity on what the best solution is at that time. What alternatives exist for them? How could they combine elements of the solution from different areas into something holistic and complete? We must be the sincere and trusted advisors they need. We should put together a solution that may not necessarily be exactly what we put in the proposal. But based upon our analysis of the real situation, we may need to adjust aspects of our solution and then explain and clarify why this is what is best for our customer at that time. This will sometimes include discussions on the project scoping and how to deliver that which is most beneficial.
As consultants, we are a package deal. We do need to be constantly skill building. If, for example, you don’t know Microsoft Excel very well, ask your company for some training or self-learn according to the setup provided by your company. Success isn’t always about results; it is about you and being a shortcut. I am ready to do just about anything my customers require, of course keeping in mind my experience and background. If the requirement is below my level and I can get a junior person to help, it doesn’t make sense for me to use important project time when I could be on higher value responsibilities.
Keep your expectations aligned. Things will go wrong. It is our reaction to them that is important. Always be a problem solver. Learn to forgive and move on. Don’t forget there are many kind and great people who helped bring you to where you are today; many of them, you will never even know their names. If you feel it hard to forgive people who have erred against you, remember that even without your realizing, you have also hurt many people in the daily flow of life. All or most of them have probably forgiven you, without any apology from your side. So stay optimistic, forgive your fellow human beings, and treat people as you would like to be treated.
As consultants, we have to always be ready to go. Surprise is the norm in our industry. I have been asked to travel abroad to new projects with two-days’ notice! If the business demand is there; be flexible and move fast. Don’t feel bad about it; you are not alone. Stay positive. One tip for new projects though is always to ask for a few days before an on-site engagement to go through project documentation. You want to understand things as best as you can before moving on site. Prepare your full list of questions beforehand. Remember that many things will be unwritten; you will have to learn them on the ground.
I am often asked about working within a consulting firm versus going independent. I have certainly considered the latter option in the past. For myself as a family person, being part of a bigger organization is important. I can create a work and personal life balance that I know would be not possible for me otherwise. It also makes things simpler in our relationship with the client since is the business details are taken care of by various people in my company. My focus is then only on the delivery side, on improving myself and on what my customer needs from my side.