Over the years, I've heard a number of stories from clients about their challenges with their IT consultants. The stories range from the mundane, such as checking stock prices online dozens of times a day, to involving legal liabilities, such as operating a personal auction site on the company's Web server. Most issues fall somewhere between but have the potential to cause problems for business owners if they're not rooted out.
As I am working with a client to pick of the pieces from another consultant's departure, I began thinking about what consultants don't tell their clients about their expertise, accounting for their time on the job, and how they structure the results of their work. Here are a few that came to mind right away.
Knowledge Inflation: Some of the worst problems I've seen come from consultants who take on a project that's beyond their area of knowledge hoping to "wing it" and look like a rock star. This can be very dangerous for a client on a number of levels.
Underestimation of Effort: Many tasks in IT, especially those surrounding programming or data analysis, look easy on the surface but quickly become very involved as the details are uncovered. A consultant eager to please the client may give a low estimate on the work involved only to find that the task is taking days or weeks instead of hours to complete.
Technology is a Distraction: Social networking, text messaging, on-line gaming, and mindless Web surfing are a part of practically all IT workers lives, especially those under 40 years old. In moderation, these activities can be useful for stress relief and may keep them in touch with family and friends when working varying shifts. However, there's a fine line between utility and draining productivity.
Something Isn't Working Right: It's hard for anyone for admit mistakes or problems, but it's especially hard when IT systems have underlying problems due to an oversight, lack of knowledge, or lack of testing. These problems are often swept under the rug because the clients don't have access to the reports, administrative tools and logging systems that would otherwise uncover the problems.
I Am Not a Coding Machine: Programmers are especially prone to this one. Some of the best coding, useful business ideas and best practices come out of spending time to reflect a problem and using "down time" to solve problems. Poor consultants will crank out code or check off tasks to create the appearance of productivity at the expense of considering efficiency and developing better approaches to their work.
After reading these, one may think that IT consultants should be viewed with suspicion. It's important to note that these concerns exist in all professions and with employees and consultants alike. Unlike most workers, IT consultants are less likely to be discovered for a number or reasons, such as:
The IT consultant might control the logging, auditing, and reporting of issues and reports
The client doesn't have a clear sense of reasonable expectations from its consultants
IT worker activities seem cryptic and foreign to clients, so it's better to just leave well enough alone
Whether hiring a new consultant, reviewing the work of an existing consultant or auditing the costs and efforts put into a project, it's important to keep these issues in mind and be aware of the many issues that surround a realistic evaluation of a consultant's work, abilities and habits.