What makes a great Organisation Development (OD) consultant for IT organisations and for getting the best out of SFIA?

Q. What is organisation development?  A. a systematic approach to improving organisational effectiveness – one that aligns strategy, people and processes.

What to look for in an IT Organisation Development / SFIA consultant?

Four themes:

  • Being able to produce high quality deliverables and do it quickly
  • Not relying on a methodology
  • Focus on impact not activity
  • Seeing the big picture

Being able to produce high quality deliverables and do it quickly

  • There are many consultants, speakers and web pages on the subject of SFIA. The sound bites are regularly used: closing skills gaps is talked about frequently. At one level the conferences, seminars and sales pitches are persuasive. High level concepts are easy to grasp and may well influence you to start a project. They are also useful to get the backing of sponsors and some investment.
  • But what about the next steps? Changing talk into action and actions into outputs and business focussed outcomes. Is the consultant able to do that with pace, with quality and to fit your specific requirements?
  • A good example is the often used phrase;

“what skills do you have now and what skills do you need”?

  • Sounds simple doesn’t it? But it hides a multitude of questions.
  • Do you start with the supply of skills (what do I have) or demand for skills (what do I need?).
  • What’s the timeline? Is the question what skills do I need now?, this year?, or next year?, or over the next 5 years? What do we mean by skills?


  • The key differentiator is the ability to move from  talking about concepts  to delivery. This means being able to assess the organisation’s needs and to plan and execute the activities and produce the impact required. This in turn means managing a range of stakeholders at all levels and with different functional interests. It means providing confidence and getting buy in and involving them to the right degree. Knowing when to be hands on, when to be hands off. When to produce and when to help others produce deliverables.
  • It means finding early deliverables to produce insight and help decision making. It means building enthusiasm and momentum for change. Using hard won experience to know the likely next steps, the potential bear traps and hidden dependencies.

Do not rely on a methodology

  • This heading will be uncomfortable for some. IT organizations like methodologies so this could feel dangerous. Indeed for an inexperienced consultant this would be risky.
  • Using a methodology implies following a known, tested, proven approach which has worked before. Who wouldn’t want that?

On the other hand:

  1. Consulting firms use methodologies as a substitute for knowledge and experience. If the experienced consultant can document their approach into a method. Then the inexperienced consultant can just follow this.
  2. Where consultancies use dedicated sales teams. The sales person will use a method to scope out a project, develop a proposal a plan and costs. When the real work starts the implementation consultant has to build on the sales person’s estimates. This makes it hard to unearth the organisation’s real needs and priorities.
  3. In the case of SFIA consultants. First there is no SFIA methodology. SFIA is a flexible framework and organisations use it in many different ways. Secondly to become accredited is a low barrier. The individual needs to have worked on only one SFIA project before. So if they are following a method it is likely to be a re-run of how they did their previous implementation. This may be OK but all organisations are different. Their priorities, their goals and their constraints are specific to them.

The result?

  • A consultant following a recipe to produce something they have never produced before. Or following a recipe used to produce something similar but not quite the same.

The inexperienced consultant can’t judge the ingredients by eye. If things don’t go as expected they don’t know how to get back on track. They don’t know if they should change the recipe and work on different things.The net result is lots of impressive sounding activities which may not meet the needs of the business.

Great SFIA consultants have broad and deep experience. They have worked with a range of methodologies, tools, organisations and cultures. They can tailor, customise and integrate seamlessly. They apply their experience to deliver outcomes and the desired business impact.

Focus on impact not activity

  • This is one of the results of blindly following a methodology. Churning out template driven activities and deliverables. Burning up consulting hours – but without making the desired impact. A focused OD consultant makes a judgement on which activities will deliver the impact.
  • They can flex their approach so that a project can deliver early wins and gain credibility.  If an unexpected opportunity emerges they they can react quickly to to make an impact. They are not tied to, or hiding behind a predetermined steps and outputs. They know what comes before and after their work and can seamlessly move in either direction.
  • Good consultants understand the need for projects to gain early momentum. This generates management attention and commits them to the end result.
  • The focus on early benefits is similar to an agile development approach. And it requires experience and confidence to make this impact. Involving stakeholders in activities can make a big difference. An opportunity to gauge reactions, offer insights and unearth the real requirements. Even the language used makes a huge difference and one where a methodology can get in the way. A good consultant can tailor their approach and language to help the organisation adopt.
  • What else is going on in the organisation; what the relationship between HR, L&D, and IT. Are there  competing priorities? Who’s driving the project? Where are the boundaries? Who needs to be be engaged in what decisions?
  • The ability to mobilise quickly and scope out the project together.  This is about high impact consulting – rather than a sales driven proposal process. It’s a collaborative solution design process based on understanding the organisations needs and priorities. Not a sales process driven by fees, tools, methodology.

See the big picture

  • A good consultant is comfortable with both strategy and the operational execution of projects and processes.
  • The organisations’ issues may appear at either level. The consultant must be able to join these up and provide insight and options. Then help the client adjust and adapt to ensure the project will make the biggest impact.
  • If the client is stuck in a low level of detail – the consultant can help pull them upwards. This identifies the wider implications and provide a different perspective to tackle the problem. e.g. to attack the root cause, or to start somewhere else or to widen / narrow the scope or the project approach.
  • Or the client may have a clear visions but is struggling to execute this. Then the consultant’s must understand the strategy but identify operational actions. The aim is to provide the easy first steps to start the journey and gain momentum . This can make all the difference. It requires someone who can think beyond the finish line for projects.
  • To be effective; the  project may need to engage with other parts of the organisation. A good consultant can support or lead that engagement to ensure the project delivers. e.g. the approach to Reward and recognition, leadership development, organisation design.
  • This requires a broad, professional background with a range of experiences and education. This is more important than  a methodology  and for doing it successfully and seamlessly.

Most Organisation Development and SFIA projects have potential for a significant impact, most struggle to gain momentum and deliver. Even more find the benefits dissipate after the project finishes.  If you want a high impact, sustainable long term solution then choose your consultant with care.


h/t to Jesse Newton NOD Consulting