26 Nov

Values of a Functional Consultant

Author: 
Time2Know
Core Values of a Functional Consultant

 

“We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” 

~ Aristotle

 

Have you ever wondered what it means to be a good Functional Consultant? 

I still remember the numerous brainstorming sessions I had with my mentors about the core values of a Consultant. At that time we were mind-mapping virtues and values of a good consultant, discussing what mix of skills are needed to become as one, and what kind of personal development would be required.

 

We all believe that good consultants add value in improving Businesses and guiding Clients. Adding value requires maturity, consideration and ability to Analyze, Design and Deliver (ADD). 

   

Those 3 essential talents constitute the foundation of every well-done work.

 

The talent to Analyze is often associated with skills like understand, listen, learn, scope, structure, prioritize and plan. Analysis can be seen as a way to comprehend the background of a desired solution and propose a realistic plan to achieve it.

The expertise to Design relates to activities like drafting, conceptualizing, modeling, architecting, visualizing and harmonizing. The design is a pre-creation of the final solution. It is about making choices regarding important building blocks, responsibilities and processes.

The capability to Deliver comprises mainly actions, such as creating, realizing, completing, enabling and supporting. Delivery ensures that the vision outlined during the Analysis and Design is actually created and fulfilled according to agreed expectations.

Depicting talents with their related skills would result in a diagram like this:

   

 

The fact that the words behind the three ADD-talents are grammatical verbs indicates that the role of a Functional Consultant is to act, move, translate, transform, produce and bring forward.

Analyzing, designing and delivering can produce valuable results in flash time-spans, such as a single workshop or in long-term undertakings like corporate strategic programs.

 

If we organize certain aspects of our professional life around the three basic talents, we would be able to define a blueprint skillset for the vital role of a Functional Consultant. The beauty of this model is that it can vary and grow. And you can define your own measures of what it means to be a good Consultant.

 

Essential Skills and Values

In the modern society, people work together and this helps them accomplish noticeable results in developing further the very same society.  In comparison with working as a sole individual, it is believed that working in a team helps us reach greater results because the whole is more than the sum of its own parts. What we achieve as a team is often seen as a significant leap in comparison to what single individuals can achieve on their own.

When we interact with someone at work, we often recognize her or him as a professional, as a specialist of some sort, but also, as a unique individual, with distinctive personality, believes and spiritual drives. 

I tend to perceive the skillset of each working person as an intertwined mix of Professional and Personal Skills, because this is what makes us who we are at work. Moreover, I would add to this mix Domain skills in order to recognize that this person is in a possession of a certain specialization, which allows him to excel and be knowledgeable in a particular business area. 

Hence, I would visualize these thoughts, as follows:

   

 

When it comes to essential skills and core values, the professional called Functional Consultant is no different – she or he would posses a distinguished mixture of professional, personal and domain skills, which would allow her or him to complete the expected work.

   

 

What makes the Functional Consultants so special is that they are the ones who – in a project – interact with the Client and drive the expectations, by guiding with knowledge and care. They would be asking over and over again WHY and WHO, in order to envision the WHAT, the WHERE and the HOW. Under their supervision software project requirements will transform into solution strategies, business improvements and industry innovations.

It is for that reason this profile should be highly considered as a mandatory asset when delivering complex IT solutions.

 

Let us discover what it takes to be a good Functional Consultant, having in mind the specifics of this profile and expectations about the corresponding role.

 

Professional Skills​

We start building our professional skills since the first job we undertake. This moment identifies the beginning of a long journey, full of surprises and rewards, sparkled with ups and downs. We develop professional skills with each new work assignment we accept, with every educational course we follow, with each profession-oriented book we read.

In my consulting practice I have learned to cherish a number of skills, which identify an individual as a professional. Below, I offer you a canvas of professional skills, considered as highly demanded for the profile of a Functional Consultant: 

   

 

Gathering needs is one of the first skills that require attention, because this ability ensures a Consultant is capable of soliciting requirements and distilling actual business needs. Knowing and applying requirements gathering techniques is the main asset of this skill.

Next comes the skill to advise what is really needed and how to achieve better results. This – together with the ability to specify the needs in a clear language – sets the base for a stable Requirements Management process.

It always comes as a bonus when a Functional Consultant is savvy in technical matters; when he is capable of conversing with technical people, hence bridging the distinct worlds of business and IT in a most efficient way. Understanding technical diagrams, brainstorming solution architectures and reading software languages is a priceless benefit, which technicians certainly appreciate – it gives the extra boost when communicating with them.

Defining acceptance criteria for the business needs is what makes Requirements Process complete. Prescribing how to validate the implemented solution requires solid knowledge in testing strategies and acceptance processes.

Developing software always employs a certain Software Methodology, like XP, Scrum, DSDM, RUP or else. The Functional Consultant is in the spotlight when it comes to having expertise on choosing and following a software process. Because knowing Software processes ensures the proper execution of the overall delivery and achieving the final goals. It is important to realize that the role of the Functional Consultant is not only to know the process, but also to safeguard its proper execution and encourage others to do the same. That liability compels superior knowledge of the methodology, so that a Consultant can guide and motivate the rest of the team, including the Client.

Every project relies on well-defined roles, which would carry the responsibilities for various tasks. For a successful Functional Consultant, it is imperative to understand common project roles and responsibilities, as part of the Professional skillset. And even if this sounds like an easy task, we often see projects with unclear role definitions, resulting in vague responsibilities. A Functional Consultant should be able to define the scope of his duties. Moreover, he should be able to explain those duties to every individual, who is dedicated to creating a proper team setup. 

 

How to improve your Professional Skills as a Functional Consultant?

Enhancing the professional skills of employees is normally a topic for an HR department. However, each individual can proactively define his or her own Personal Development Plan (PDP) and consider the following means:

  • 1-to-1 Mentoring
  • Personal Education
  • Self-study
  • Try-n’-prove
  • Share and capitalize on knowledge

 

Business Domain Skills

Excelling in the daily work requires specialization and subject-matter expertise. Having certain understanding of the business domain at hand gives a tremendous advantage in projects, because it allows proper structuring of requirements and guidance towards the final solution.

More and more, we see demands for specialists in domains like banking, insurance, trade, retail, multichannel, B2B or B2C, and so on. The reasons behind those demands are simple: the project owners are looking for people who understand the specifics of their business.

I observe that the business domains skills are often neglected in favor of staffing the projects with all-round generalists. However, being verse in the domain lingua – and knowing related business processes – unlocks a potential, which distinguishes a good Functional Consultant from the rest. When applied, the domain skills offer another dimension of consulting, as they bring vital knowledge to a project.

Thinking about domain skills, I imagine a chart like the one below. Certainly, you can add more ideas how to improve the domain skills, based on own experience and believes.

   

 

As with every special topic it all starts with solid understanding of the concrete domain – its practical know-how and business know-why.  Essential domain knowledge is vital when shaping the well-being of the final solution, since it defines a proven roadmap of principles and strategies, based on experience and standardizations. Experienced teams, acknowledge the fact that developing a particular Domain methodology around their know-how enables them to gain speed in production and support.

Domain know-how is unthinkable without credible understanding of relevant business processes, which are involved in the business we try to model. In that context, a skilled Functional Consultant would employ Actor analysis to outline WHO does WHAT and HOW in the specific industry landscape. Knowledge in common processes and business automation puts the whole domain expertise in perspective and allows the Client to recognize the to-be future solution.

In the practice of a Functional Consultant it is essential to demonstrate possible solutions. When discussing requirements in a workshop, do not forget to prepare a short demo and configure out-of-the-box features of the underlying platform. That works two-fold: on one hand it raises the Client’s confidence that you know your matter, and on the other hand it sets proper expectations about what is default and what is customizable.

Next comes the ability to assemble the know-how, the business process expertize and the configuration capabilities into viable solutions. It is of no surprise that often a Functional Consultant is seen as a Solution Strategist, due to his diverse knowledge of tools, domains and solution patterns.

Once the Functional Consultant lays down the foundation of a solution architecture, comes the time to define acceptance criteria for success: given the business domain and processes the acceptance criteria can vary, and it becomes important to master their relevance with the domain in context. The outcome of defined acceptance criteria can be represented with a rich portfolio of test scenarios, which evaluate the new solution.

Every digital commerce project challenges the Enterprise and its existing working habits. The new software solution offers augmented automation and efficiency, which in turn results in optimizations among the business structures, alignment of processes, even opening new job positions. A Functional Consultant should be able to support the business in all the transformations to come, by drafting change management strategies, enabling business staff and capitalizing on project documentation. 

 

How to develop your Domain Skills as a Functional Consultant?

Domain skills are developed with education and practice. Consider the following ways to gain knowledge:

  • Dedicated Domain training
  • Exposure to specialized literature
  • Hands-on experience and daily practice
  • Inspirations from business fairs and innovation trends 

 

Personal Skills

The personal skills are the ones every one of us cultivates in the course of a whole Lifetime. They are those that bring us forward as humans and the ones that we are most judged upon in the society. They moderate our feelings, emotions and behaviors.

As we live our lives among other individuals, it would be more proper to talk about “inter-personal skills” to reflect the fact that we nurture personal qualities that enable us to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

   

 

Dealing with people is a daily job for a Consultant. To be a Person-oriented professional demands a great amount of responsibilities and results in opportunities. That includes also acknowledging the fact that each individual possesses certain knowledge and wisdom, which make him or her who they are. This appreciation should be leading when approaching people at work.

Analytical thinking is a gift that enables a Functional Consultant to put first things first. It involves a methodical step-by-step approach to break down a given problem and examine its ingredients.

Sharing information and knowledge is a treasured ability. Knowledge is exchanged by presenting a story to others. Presentation is about story-telling, information organization, intonation and body language. A Functional Consultant presents information in an engaging and lively manner. It is not a surprise that experienced consultants can entertain an audience without a deck of slides – simply by drawing on the board and making an appealing story. Sketching on the board during a workshop allows the participants to follow the unfolding story and understand it.

A project represents a web of communication channels, where all team members exchange thoughts, update each other and inform about advancement. Communication skills are essential for each individual, as through them people can influence, convince and motivate others. In conversations people negotiate their ideas with others, thus aiming to achieve shared understanding. “Give” and “take” become vital in achieving a common goal.

A Functional Consultant accepts, honors and processes the facts and the feelings. This enables change and progress. Understanding each other begins with listening. It is a common belief that a Consultant is supposed only to talk and advice but, actually, a decent Consultant listens more, than actually speaks. Demonstrating listening and compassionate understanding opens the gate to mutual confidence and collaboration with a Client or teammates.

One of the most cherished virtues is the ability to think ahead and proactively guide the Client in the daily work. Being proactive requires awareness of the business context and maturity to guide others. Add to that a positive win-win thinking brings the couple Client - Consultant to a greater level of trust; it offers the invaluable opportunity of achieving mutual benefits and satisfaction, not in “my way” or “your way”, but in a collective higher way.

 

How to improve your Personal Skills and become an effective Functional Consultant?

Personal skills are developed during the whole life, so they normally take longer to form, mature and master. I am far from believing that I can possibly list all that is needed to develop personal skills, so here are few things to consider that could help refining those talents:

  • Work on Soft Skills (social graces, communication, language, personal habits, interpersonal skills, managing people, leadership, compassion, kindness)
  • Read and self-educate
  • Be disciplined
  • Prioritize first things first
  • Find your balance & centeredness
  • Live a Life based on principles

 

Epilogue

A good Functional Consultant has experience in working inside and working with a vast range of businesses. It is the collective consulting history that makes the Consultant valuable. Combining only technical and functional talents is only but a good start. Vision-to-Reality thinking, care and passion, soft skills and ethics, high moral and person-oriented principles, make the Consultant a trusted advisor, leading a Client to a successful project with enduring results.

The duty of the Consultant is a continuous effort for improving businesses and working rituals of others. Although, improving the deeds and practices of others first requires mastering the own virtues, behaviors and objectives. Therefore, an exceptional Consultant strives for refining personal and professional management, thus forming quality relationships with other people, living a productive and wholesome life.

These inner values influence our daily work. They project our self-confidence, attitude and professionalism in client-facing situations. Hence, it all starts with nurturing the habits of internal private achievements. Only after that we can foster habits of interacting with others and go for measurable accomplishments shared with others.

 

 
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~  What is your value-set for a Functional Consulant? Please let us know ...  

 

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