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Operational Questions

Unlike the financial questions, these questions get more at the heart of how a technology consulting company actually operates. Frequently, the best answers come from the peer interviewers, who will often have much better firsthand knowledge than even senior management at times.

Question 4: Who did the estimate for your current project?

Generally speaking, you don’t want to work for a company that lets its salespeople do the estimating. People who work in demand generation tend to be compensated on commission, which provides an incentive system that biases towards underestimation. For software development projects especially, it should be a consultant – ideally one trusted to not sandbag the estimate – who did the estimating.

Question 5: Does the firm use Agile and/or Lean methods on software development projects?

Very few firms that do serious work today espouse Waterfall – or as I write about in my book, "Faith Driven Development" – as a serious methodology for execution of any kind of software development project of more than trivial size. Especially in 2009, where clearly, business conditions and realities can change on a dime, writing a huge GANTT chart that specifies when, during month 14 of a project, the software developer number 22 will take a bathroom break, is more of an act of fiction writing than of serious project management. Pretending to be able to predict the future with certainty not only gets us into gigantic software development messes, writ large, but also is a chief actor in the current financial crisis (think financial services with their risk models that guaranteed AAA ratings on toxic assets). Definitely consider commitment to agile methods as a data point in your decision.

Question 6: Of your last 3 projects, how many were real projects, versus staff augmentation?

There are consulting companies, and there are contracting companies that slap the consulting label on themselves in hopes of getting higher rates. If in all three cases, the person you are interviewing with was mostly on projects where they were the lone "consultant" — that is, a member of a client team where the client owns responsibility for the project — there is a good chance you are not interviewing at a consulting company, but rather, at a job placement company.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with such "Body Shops" that advertise themselves as such. The issue really is that such places tend to have lower margins (because there is less value add), and therefore, tend to not have the financial resources to carry people on a bench for long – if at all, and thus, tend to have less security.

Question 7: What’s the Real Deal on Travel?

Even in companies that profess that travel is not required, chances are, if a technology consulting company does work in more than one city, during bad times when they are reluctant to hire until absolutely required, you may end up being asked to get on a plane and work in another city for awhile. Getting a sense from a peer on how much pressure there is to travel is critical.

Of course, in a deep recession, traveling for a company that otherwise treats people well is probably preferable to not traveling for one which treats its people poorly.

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