Why Technology Consultants Can Be Great Product Managers

Thinking of switching career paths from consulting to product management? In this article I will highlight why a technology/software consultant can leverage many skills and experiences from past client engagements to ultimately succeed in a product management role.

Companies hiring for product manager roles are known to on-board employees who have originated from a wide variety of past experiences and disciplines. From an academic perspective, since there is usually no product management major available in most universities, students can leverage a plethora of degrees to obtain their first product manager job. The same holds true for experienced hires hoping to leverage their past work experience. New PMs can come from previous roles with transferable skills that can be leveraged when working with the product development life cycle. Technology consultants are especially well prepared to take on the fast paced, communication heavy, highly variable work environment of a product manager because similar skills and attitudes are required to thrive as a consultant.

Technology Consultants Manage Scope Creep

During client engagements, technology consultants are usually working with the client project team over the course of several months to transform an out-of-the-box version of a cloud software into a custom version that aligns with the client’s business needs. Time and materials spent on a project are billed toward a finite budget. The consultants, who work with the client to design and implement the custom software, must be proactive about sticking to the original project scope. Oftentimes, adding out of scope items to “perfect” the software build can lead to unforeseen risks to a project timeline, such as finding unintended consequences of the change during testing. Additionally, with every added custom requirement implemented, the technical debt increases leading to increased system maintenance costs. The ability of a consultant to manage and mitigate scope creep while still delivering an exceptional product can be leveraged in the product management realm. Sticking to the original product roadmap allows the product team to ship new features within the allocated timeline and budget. Chasing perfection is enticing but can be a detrimental goal if the changes are not well received by end-users. A better approach is to pursue realistic incremental changes that can be defined, built, tested, and deployed within a realistic timeline.

Technology Consultants Generate Requirements from Real User Feedback

When generating requirements, it is critical to identify possible changes based on metrics and real user feedback. Since technology consultants build software that must align with the business use cases of the client organization, no development begins without careful analysis of how the future end-users feel about the potential changes. Consultants lead requirement gathering workshops to determine the correct course of action. Here, the consultant’s recommendations based on best practices and the client’s requirements fuse to create the desired outcome. Furthermore, the new configuration is tested at the end of each sprint and during QA to validate and accept new changes. Technical consultants already understand that a product roadmap is not set strictly by the ideas you have. You need to heavily involve the client in the ideation process. Because all successful product managers understand the importance of including the target market in the conversation, technical consultants, who always include the client, could smoothly transition this skill to a PM role.

Technology Consultants are Agile Development Experts

After gathering requirements in the “define phase” of the project through requirements gathering workshops, the next step in the software implemention is to take meeting notes and use them to develop epics and user stories that will define the goals of the implementation. If the consultant is also the lead engineer, or participating in engineering efforts, they will generate tickets for each user story to create a backlog of technical items to be completed. Those user stories and tickets can then be separated into sprints, which can be defined during sprint planning meetings. Finally, consultants are rather familiar with the stand-up meetings because they lead these meetings to inform the project team on the progress, risks, and schedule of the sprints pending completion. The result is a lean, iterative approach to product development that increases efficiency and client satisfaction. Product managers need to have a great understanding of the agile development method in order to oversee the execution of their product roadmap. If a consultant is already comfortable leading this process, they can take the lessons learned from past client engagements and apply them to any sort of product development project.

Technical Consultants are Communication Liaisons

Both technical consultants and product managers serve as communication liaisons for their respective positions. Product managers work as intermediaries between end-users, engineers, upper management, and other product teams. Similarly, a technical consultant works with end-users to gather requirements, update on progress, and ensure successful adoption of the implementation. They work with engineers (or sometimes act as) to execute on software development. If a project has multiple simultaneous workstreams, they also need to work hand-and-hand with their colleagues to ensure that their efforts operate harmoniously.  Both of these roles require an individual to communicate well with a multitude of stakeholders and be attentive to many different aspects of the work being completed, Thus, these skills are easily transferrable between a consulting and  product management role.

Technology Consultants are Subject Matter Experts

Clients will turn to their technology consultant to assist in their own understanding of the software. Oftentimes, consultants are brought in when the client team is transitioning their operations from one software to another. This means that while the client may have an idea as to how they want their business to operate, it is up to the consultant to explain what is feasible and recommended within the new system. A technology consultant has done a great job when the client understands the system with little or no on the assistance from the consultant at the end of the project. Teams that have a good working understanding of the technology being leveraged are better able to define user stories, which satisfy the business use cases, and reduce unnecessary added strain on the technology. Similarly, for product managers, having a comprehensive grasp of the product is mission critical to good job performance. Product managers with great understanding of how the product is built on the back end along with the features and benefits offered to the end-users on the front end will be able to hold more productive conversations regarding their product. Additionally, this understanding can mitigate against the potential for incorrect strategic product moves. Because the technology consultant knows from experience that product expertise leads to greater success, they are likely to take the same approach in a product manager role.

Technology Consultants are Time Managers

Lastly, technology consultants are always working against the project timeline and budget. This requires exceptional time management skills to adhere to the expected project closure date and stay underbudget at the same time. This task becomes exponentially more difficult when a consultant is staffed on multiple engagements, each one with its own nuances and hurdles. A seasoned tech consultant will have a solid understanding of how to prioritize various tasks so that the client feels valued. Additionally, they collaborate well with their team members to delegate tasks to prevent any one resource from being spread too thin.

As a product manager, you are also measured against estimated release timelines and quarterly performance. It is important to have a clear understanding of the tasks expected of you and the team. Then together you can actively work to prioritize certain features and tasks to maximize the amount of value contributed towards the company’s mission. Without time management, products can be underbaked when they are scheduled to deploy or too much time may be spent perfecting one aspect of the product and neglecting other critical components.

Final Thoughts

Product Managers matriculate into the industry from many different backgrounds. This is one of the amazing aspects about the industry. There is no formulaic way to be the perfect product manager. The skills and methodologies required are constantly changing. This means that people of many backgrounds are capable of being successful PMs. This article highlights just one role which I believe fits this definition. Technical consultants can draw from the similarities of their previous work experience to potentially make a switch to product management and be effective at the role.