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Practitioners versus consultants: what benefits do both roles offer?

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Duran Duran

ITSM practitioners may not get to be seen as “rock-star saviors” in the same way as consultants, but may be the actual "rocks" through which change takes place

Ever wondered what the difference is between being an ITSM practitioner and a consultant?

Here, Tobias Nyberg shares his experiences of how being an ITSM practitioner compares with being a consultant on a day-to-day basis

I call myself an ITSM practitioner, in the sense that that means I’m not a consultant. ITSM practitioners are there for the long haul, whereas consultants are usually only brought in to consult in the short term or on one-off projects. What this means practically is that being an ITSM practitioner brings additional opportunities and challenges that are not usually within the remit of a consultant.

Being a practitioner requires working in a sustained fashion over a longer term, so in many cases, this means I have to find ways to keep the momentum and energy up when projects end and consultants leave, and the normal business-as-usual work takes over. It can be challenging to feel you are really making a difference when you are in the middle of the daily business and everything is functioning well, whereas consultants have the benefit of being able to make a more recognizable contribution over the short term.

One of the things I really like about not being a consultant is that I have a different kind of responsibility towards my employer, my company and my colleagues, which is to make things work — and to make them work better — without the support of a project or other expert consultant. It means I have the opportunity to drive change from within, and to have the kind of long-term buy-in to make changes become a reality.

It also means I have to work and live the results of my efforts for as long as I stay at my company, which puts a different perspective on working relationships. I’ve worked with consultants that drove change so hard that everyone hated them when the project finished (well, except for management). But that was all right, since they got the work done and could leave after the project was finished.

Between a rock and a rock star

Unfortunately, we practitioners can’t use up all our organizational goodwill and call in all the personal favours we need for a single project, and then expect to have any swag left to cover the rest of the year. I believe this means that there is far less to lose by playing it hard as a consultant — as long as there are some hard-working practitioners left in the building to keep pushing the changes after the consultants have gone.

Of course, it can be a bit of a drag not to be seen as one of the rock-star “savior” consultants who show up and help make ITSM practitioners shine, but I’ve grown to accept that — as the saying goes, prophets can’t really expect to be welcomed in their own home town.

So when your boss runs in to the office, proclaiming that she or he has seen the light and the true path to ITSM goodness through the eyes of the new consultant, you just smile and cheer, and silently thank yourself for the excellent groundwork that led up to this moment of clarity. Never mind the fact that you’ve probably been saying the exact same thing for the past six months, although no one was willing to listen to you back then.

We, the practitioners, need to be there to take care of all the daily business, and gradually identify and implement areas for improvement. We are the ‘rocks’ who get the chance to see the theories and the frameworks, and then put these into practice in reality. We are the ones with the hands-on experience and firsthand knowledge on how to do things, and how it all really works. So, we may not get to be the rock stars, but we do get to be the rocks on which change is built.

It’s good to share

Our experience is something we need to value properly and share with other ITSM professionals so we can help both ourselves and the ITSM community grow.

Unfortunately, the downside of working at one place for a long time is that you automatically don’t get any fresh experience from anywhere else. A consultant can visit many companies and see firsthand how things are done and how it works there. But that breadth of experience can be hard to come by in other ways if you remain in the same company for a long period.

That’s one of the reasons I believe it is good practice for us to share our experience with each other and among the ITSM community. It’s one sure way to grow without switching to consultancy.

I’m currently working with a special-interest group where we are a majority of practitioners. It’s a great group — enthusiastic, and eager to share and learn from each other. There are some consultants who participate there, too, and they often contribute as much as anyone else. It’s always interesting to see the differences in how and what consultants and practitioners share.

But there are good reasons for that. Consultants are obliged to honour confidentiality agreements, so can’t share everything from companies where they have worked, as they can’t mention customer names without consent; also, the intellectual property might not be theirs to share, etc. However, they can share a variety and breadth of experiences from many different organizations, summarizing these with the details hidden or masked.

We practitioners, on the other hand, are able to share more information within our own discretion. We can be more detailed, and can discuss matters of interest with more depth. We also have a more profound and specialized knowledge of what we do at our organizations, but we are not as diversified and broad in our knowledge as consultants.

Best of both

When I set out to write this, it was because I had discussed the good and bad things about being a practitioner versus being a consultant with four different persons within a week.

The results were that three practitioners felt they were made smaller at their companies because of consultants, and that they had nothing to offer the community in terms of experience. Yet one consultant said he felt frustrated that he could never stay long enough to actually see the long-term results of his efforts, and that he could only ever share generalised information about his work.

In my own experience, I have been both a consultant and a practitioner — and I do like both roles, but for different reasons. Together, we tend to make great teams and drive change quite symbiotically. Let’s remember that we are different for good reasons, and strive to use that to grow — both as professional individuals and as a business community.




9 Responses to " Practitioners versus consultants: what benefits do both roles offer? "

  1. I love everything you write, Tobias, because it is authentic and because it is a seldom-heard voice, as you say. You’ll be glad to hear I’ve been planning a a series of interviews of practitioners – look for it soon 🙂

    • Tobias Nyberg says:

      Thank you Rob, I appreciate your kind words, especially since I know you to be quite authentic yourself. I’m really looking forward to your practitioners interviews!

  2. Patsy Anderson says:

    Thanks for your voice of reason and reality. I have enjoyed everything of yours that I have read – I find it both practical and human.

  3. Phil Green says:

    What a great article – passionate, insightful and (to quote Rob) authentic.

    • Tobias Nyberg says:

      Thanks Phil, the comments on my writing is a real booster for continuing telling my story.

  4. Good article. Like you having been on both sides of the fence I know there are good and bad things about both. I suspect the actual influence of the consultants is often over-estimated,

    • Tobias Nyberg says:

      I agree, that can definitely be the case sometimes. However, I believe that we don’t take advantage of the experience that consultants bring often enough. We don’t give them enough possibilities to actually deliver goodness in parity to their their knowledge. And then, sometimes we get consultants who knows less than I do and have half the experience I have. You win some and you lose some.