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How to Talk to Your IT Consultant: A Guide for Non-Technical People

Your server is down. Your organization needs custom software. Your company needs to buy and install new software. But information technology isn't your thing, so you've brought in a technology consultant.

Now you have a different concern — if you're not technical and you need a highly technical solution, how do you explain what you need? And how do you understand what the consultant is saying to you when you meet with them to discuss the project?

If you're not technical, talking to a developer who lives and breathes code can be challenging. You might worry that you don't have the vocabulary to communicate your concerns to them. You might not know what's being said when terms like DevOps or BPM come up in conversation.

As with any consultant, the key to working with an IT consultant is constant, open and honest communication, but there are some special considerations when you're working with a professional who works with technology — especially if you don't.

The IT Language Barrier

It may seem to an outsider that developers, engineers and other IT consultants have their own language but let's be fair — all jobs have their own jargon. IT professionals' jargon can seem a lot more intimidating because if you don't work in technology, you may never have come across any of the terms before.

You're not going to be exposed to all that jargon but if you're working with a technology consultant there are going to be some terms you should understand and those terms largely deal with the way the consultant will work as well as the different kinds of solutions you might need.

Below are some terms you might hear when you're working with a consultant.

it-consultantPhoto by rawpixel on Unsplash

A quick technical glossary for non-technical people:

Agile methodology - A philosophy about software development that values adaptive planning, iteration, continuous improvement and collaboration between developers and clients. It's a process that produces working software quickly, without getting hamstrung by trying to produce the perfect solution. (More on that later.)

Blockchain - A decentralized, shared, immutable, chronological ledger or a database shared with a ledger, known for being used to exchange cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin but also able to be used for other purposes.

BPM - This stands for Business Process Management, which simply means the automation and streamlining of business processes — like getting approvals — that is often done by hand. Sometimes this is called BPA or Business Process Automation

DevOps — A philosophy of IT management in which the development and operation teams are no longer isolated in their own departments and many processes are automated.

QA - This stands for Quality Assurance. Quality assurance testers are usually a part of any team that develops software. They write tests to see where a project has bugs, so the developers can fix those bugs as soon as possible.

Scrum - An Agile business methodology that organizes workers into small, self-governing teams that work on set tasks during short periods of times called sprints.

SQL and NoSQL - These are types of databases. Pronounced "sequel" and "no sequel", SQL stands for Structured Query Language.

NoSQL is, well, not SQL. Most traditional databases are SQL, or relational databases. In fact, blockchains are also a kind of shared database. If you need a database built, your consultant will suggest one that fits your business needs and explain what it is and why you need it.

Those are some of the terms you might hear if you've brought a consultant on board. Now let's move on to some dos and don'ts.

Best Practices for working with an IT consultant

Understand your business needs. Before a consultant can help you, you need to be very clear about the business problem you want them to solve. You need to know what you're asking for and what you want the consultant to help you achieve. This is something you need to understand before the hiring process begins — the scope of a project will inform your contract and confidentiality agreements, as well as the sort of consultant you hire — but it's also something you and your organization should keep in mind throughout the project.

If you don't know something, ask. While the above glossary is useful when it comes to getting you on the same page with a consultant, if your IT consultant uses a term you don't recognize or understand, ask. No one's going to question your intelligence if you don't know what Azure is or need a refresher on what a Scrum Master does. Remember, the consultant is there to help you.

Trust your consultants to do their job. You've hired IT consultants to do a job for you. Now you've got to let them do it. If you need them to do something and you're not sure that task is included within the scope of their contract, ask first. In fact, always error on the side of over-communication.

quotationmarks-1"We are here to solve the issue you don't have time to do yourself," says Aaron Carmody, Omni solutions consultant. "Consultants by nature enjoy being relied upon to solve these problems, it's what keeps us going."

consultingPhoto by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Don't get caught up in the idea of perfection. A perfect solution is what you want, right? Well, according to our consultants if you're aiming for perfection, you're missing the mark. What you should be looking for is a solution that drives value for you. Perfection can be a trap — businesses can get so wrapped up in making a perfect solution that they spend too much money and miss deadlines. If you're working with an Agile consultant, that consultant may want you to start implementing quickly and later make adjustments to improve that solution. "Perfection does not drive value," says Omni Project Manager Michael Matter. "The timely implementation of value driven change is what everyone should be focused on."

Be as detailed as you possibly can when you describe a problem. Give the full history of the problem. To help you create a solution that works for you, the consultant is going to need to understand as much as possible about your business needs, so you want to avoid a gap in their knowledge. Provide whatever information you have; compile as much data and situational awareness as possible to give a complete a picture to the consultant — or, at least, the most complete picture you can," says Carmody. 

Communicate, communicate, communicate. In the same vein, never be shy about communicating with your consultants. No one knows your job or your IT needs better than you do, so when you're working with a consultant to find a solution to your business problems, be as open and honest as you possibly can. Maybe a solution the consultant has proposed doesn't sound feasible to you. Try to explain as clearly as possible why that is. If the solution doesn't work, a good consultant will propose a solution that better fits your needs. For example, at Omni, our consultants work with many different kinds of software, some of which do similar things. So, if one solution doesn't work for you, your consultant may find a different technology that better aligns with the way you work.

"Constant, open and honest communication is a must," says Matter. "The value that an IT consultant can provide is often a reflection of quality of communication between the client and the consultant, regardless of whether the client is technical or not."

quality-assurance-testerPhoto by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Ready to work with a consultant?

A good consultant isn't going to make you jump through hoops to understand them. They get that they're talking to someone who isn't a developer — that's the reason you hired them, after all. Communicating with you, as well as training you and your staff, is part of their job.

At Omni, for example, our consultants work hard to understand what you do and what your needs are first. Educating your staff so that you can manage the solution after the project has ended is also part of their job.

Interested in learning more? Contact us to make your ideas a reality.

A.J. O'Connell

About Author A.J. O'Connell

What happens when you love technology but your skill set means you’re more into writing prose than code? You write about technology. That’s what A.J. O’Connell does. A freelance writer who got her start in newspaper journalism, A.J. has been writing professionally for almost 20 years. She loves writing for Omni because she gets to write about cutting edge technology; it brings her back to college, when she hung out with all the computer science students in the IT lab. A.J. lives in CT with her husband, her son, and a lot of animals.


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