Editorial Note: Thanks, to all for the heavy response rate to my last post! I’m glad there’s interest in Expert Beginner T-Shirts and I’m really excited by all of the people interested in exploring new ways to do free agency. In fact, I was sort of blown away by the number of responses, which far exceeded my expectations. I’ll be figuring out next steps before too long, so stay tuned!
Today I’m going to do something that’s a first, but probably not a last, since it makes sense. I’m going to regard a comment as a reader question (since the comment came in the form of a question). This one also has a much shorter cycle time than average because the substance of it was something I was literally just having a conversation about in the last couple of days. I have opinions on the matter, and fresh ones at that. Here is the comment/question.
Ever dealt with this situation? You’re brought on to deliver with clear expectations on both sides. You deliver. They like you. They want you to stick around. Then your job slowly morphs into “do whatever needs to be done as an all purpose IT generalist.” You came on to port an old app to a newer platform, and next thing you know they are asking you to write custom sql data transforms to onboard new customers. To top it off, you want to be a “team player”, so you agree to take on one of these tasks. How would you respectfully and professionally address this situation? It’s basically the “this is not what I signed up for” argument.
First of all, have I ever dealt with this situation? Oh, my, yes, and from a lot of different angles. And, I’m not just being grandiose — there are a lot of different angles of approach once you think about the nuanced relationships between standard companies, software companies, software consultancies, and free agents.
But despite the myriad situations in which this arises, there is really only a singular cause. And it’s because the closest thing to a law of nature in the corporate world is what I’ll call the “Gravitational Force of Wage Labor.” But let me resurrect my consulting taxonomy before I get to that.
Consultants and the Enterprise
There are, in my estimation, three main ways for non-salaried people from outside of an organization to act, temporarily as part of that organization. (Someone please chime in if you think of another one that is fundamentally different — I have not given this exhaustive thought to make sure nothing is omitted.) I say “act as part of the organization” to discount superficial interactions and put us squarely into the realm of consulting. These are as follows.
- Staff augmentation
- Project specialist
- Retainer consulting
(As a quick aside, please note that I would consider wholesale project/product delivery to be a vendor relationship — if you’re a ‘consultant’ that sits at home every day for six months, building a piece of software that you then hand off to the client, you are acting as a vendor rather than as a part of that organization.)
Perhaps not surprisingly, these line up pretty well with my taxonomy from the earlier post, when expectations align and all is right with the world.
- Software pros, when onsite, offer staff augmentation.
- Specialists, when onsite, serve as project specialists for the duration of some project.
- True consultants, when onsite, do so in a retainer consulting capacity.
This should line up with common experience. Software pros sign on through agencies to work at the company with its staff developers or else they get para-dropped in by ‘consulting’ firms in the same capacity. The only way you know whether they’re staff or not is the color of their badge. Specialists come in to help with the CRM installation and then toddle on off to the next CRM installation elsewhere when this one finishes. And, consultants come in to offer advice during the course of a particular situation or phase of a project.
At least, that’s the theory.
The Gravitational Force of Wage Labor
But have you ever noticed something odd? Have you ever noticed that you come in as a consultant or specialist, and are regarded as a high priced, hot shot commodity? And then, you just kind of run out of steam somehow, without realizing it, six months in? When you started, the CTO was interested in your strategic expertise, but now some project manager is chiding you for not reporting your status with a little more flair during a daily standup? (I’m asking the royal you, since the question submitter presumably has, per the premise of the question.)