November 15, 2016

Hiring a Short-Term Software Consultant – How to Prepare

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Many companies benefit from a bringing in a short-term software consultant. This role goes by different names: tech lead, interim CTO, senior developer, and even product owner.

A development consultant may help you architect the project, think through budget, and identify a minimum marketable feature set. He or she may explain the strengths and limitations of different technologies and help you recruit, hire, and onboard a long-term team accordingly.

Such expertise can save you a ton of money and add tremendous value to your company, especially if you have prepared adequately for the engagement.

In this post we will recommend some ways that your team can effectively engage a short-term consultant and make that relationship a worthwhile investment.

#1 – Crystallize Your Goals.

Before you get to work in earnest you and your consultant need to define your mutual goals. It’s hard for a consultant to hit the target if neither of you is certain what the target is! Much time (and money!) is wasted in situations where no one has taken time to clearly demarcate the engagement and deliverables.

You want everyone to be able to say why the consultant has joined the team and the specifics of what you will accomplish together.

An easy way to articulate your goals is to think with the end in mind. In other words, what does a home run look like? What successful outcome can the consultant help your company achieve? What’s the timeline for that outcome?

Once you have put some clothes on that success skeleton, go on and ask the second set of questions that will follow the first positive outcomes. Here are some that Clear Function consultants ask our clients:

  • How will you scale the product?
  • How and when will you onboard your first customer?
  • Will this plan still work when you onboard your thousandth customer?
  • What would a support team look like?

Articulating and addressing questions will help to build consensus and set your development consultant up for success. We consultants like to hit targets. Just point the way.

#2 – Prepare Your Team for Engagement.


If your team can state the goals of your engagement with the consultant, then you are already poised for success. But before the consultant arrives, do a bit more prep work to affirm everyone’s role and value and to define everyone’s relationship with the consultant.

Let’s be honest. Bringing in a new “expert” can be a puzzle at best and an outright threat at worst. Human beings have a tendency to become territorial. When we feel like our value is being questioned or our livelihoods are somehow at risk, we treat newcomers like interlopers.

But if everyone understands the reason for the hire, your team will be less apprehensive about the entrance of an outsider and will be more confident about the work ahead.

You can all spend less time on politicking and more time learning from the consultant.

#3 – Use Time Efficiently.

Make room for your consultant before they arrive.

By that, we mean cover your technical bases. Round up all of the necessary documents and project management tools. Buy the extra seats and developer licenses. Think through how you’re going to share login credentials and give temporary access.

Once your consultant signs the paperwork and meets your team, he or she should be able to get started right away—because you will have already laid the groundwork.

Another way to save time is to time-box scheduled meetings. Long meetings can oversaturate attendees with new (and sometimes irrelevant) information. To avoid this overload, differentiate between strategic (planning) meetings and tactical (doing) meetings.

Keep meetings short. Designate a moderator whose has the authority to interrupt people and keep the meeting on track. Keep minutes for reference in future meetings. Take a fifteen-minute break after each meeting.

Downtime helps us all absorb new information and later use it to be productive. In fact, if you want your team, consultant included, to be more productive, then encourage everyone to take 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work.


#4 – Plan an Exit Strategy.

In a best-case scenario, a short-term consultant will transition in and out smoothly. By keeping this transition in mind, you can plan ahead for how long to keep a consultant and how to effectively transfer skill and knowledge back to the long-term team.
A final review would be beneficial, as well as asking the consultant’s help developing a formal plan of attack. Whatever the case, decide how your team can pick up right where the consultant left off and carry on with (better) business as usual.

One Final Thought: Don’t Forget to Send Referrals.

We sincerely hope that your experience working with a short-term software development consultant is rewarding.

If their business is anything like Clear Function, then they love getting referrals. So be sure to shout your good experience from the mountaintops!

Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to email Stephen at [email protected] with any questions, comments, or ideas for future posts.

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