my firm asks people during the interview process what the difference is between a consultant and a contractor. the answer most people give: contractors get paid for a specific job—to do the work—while consultants get paid to go beyond the task at hand and do the thinking as well. but the thinking can’t just be about the problem. it has to go beyond being merely skin deep.

clients will ask for technology solutions—an “app” for this, or a database for that—but may not be sure exactly how to accomplish that goal. enter the consultant. in she comes with UML diagrams to follow the flow of information through the technology. she’ll even bring along some choice vocabulary words to show that she knows what she’s talking about. she gets it. but what she doesn’t get? her client.

it’s very easy to act like a consultant and think about ways to build a better mousetrap, but that’s not what true consultants do. true consultants don’t start with the solution, they first start with a detailed analysis of the organization. organizational structure, culture, available resources, processes, politics, and policies all will play a part in the ultimate success or failure of any solution. if you don’t do the work up front to understand what you’re getting into, what you need to change, and whom you can and can’t trust to help, then you’re merely a contractor with a higher price tag.