IT professionals take on consulting skills

Masterclass aims to tackle a lack of soft skills

There is more to successfully delivering an IT service than just technical expertise, proposes consulting manager Graeme Simsion, who believes that soft skills play an equally important role in IT businesses.

To tackle what he calls a 'shortage of consulting skills in IT professionals', Simsion will be leading a masterclass about running consultancy assignments, dealing with clients and meeting their expectations, and handling difficult people.

"I think we all know from our own experiences with professionals - be they accountants, lawyers, doctors - that the technical knowledge that the person has is only half of the deal," said Simsion, a senior fellow at the University of Melbourne who also runs his own consultancy Simsion & Associates.

From his many years of consultancy work, Simsion recalls several assignments that did not go according to plan. He attributes most of these unsuccessful assignments to a failure of consulting skills, even in professional consultants.

"I think most users would agree that when things go wrong, it's not because the person was technically incompetent," he said. "Far more often, there's been a misunderstanding of requirements from a lack of the underlying consulting skills."

Simsion has also observed, through previous consulting classes that he has run in North America and Europe, that some managers prefer to send their employees to courses that teach hard skills like new techniques or programming languages. As a consequence, many IT professionals could get a long way into their careers without having any consulting skills training at all.

However, he said, "In my experience, people who progress in IT are not always people who have the strongest technical skills; very often, the barrier to progression for people is that they don't have good soft skills."

While he admits that there are some people with a natural ability to handle people and consulting situations, Simsion argues that without the right training, even people with natural skills will often deviate from the correct methods under pressure.

The masterclass will be held in Melbourne from March 26-27 and is expected to be relevant to all IT professionals past the career stage of simply coding under the direction of a more senior technical person.

More information is available here.

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