What is a Functional Consultant?

I've been working as a functional consultant for more than a year and this is the most common question I'm asked on an everyday basis when I introduce myself.


Subject Matter Translation

Located between developers and the client, a Functional Consultant’s role is to listen to the client, understanding difficulties with their existing solution, while hearing their motivations for migrating to a new one.

This sounds similar to a Business Analyst, right? Well, this is where a Functional Consultant differs.

Bridging the gap between client and developer

A Functional Consultant is a product and/or industry expert, often in a specialist field, who understands their product on a technical level, knowing limitations, and how to take advantage of out-of-the-box functionality. It’s this in-depth knowledge that sets a Functional Consultant apart, allowing them to best advise clients on the right solution and approach to meet their needs.



Being able to translate business requirements into technical tasks is another differentiator — a Functional Consultant can write detailed user stories that both the client and developers can understand. This allows developers to task out stories, that would have previously required a back-and-forth with the client and involved a Business Analyst middle person.

The consultative, relationship building approach

The combination of understanding client pain points and long-term goals, paired with a strong vendor ecosphere knowledge, allows Functional Consultants to spot up-sell/cross-sell opportunities. When advising on the best approach for an already defined requirement, there are occasions where the client will mention legacy systems, perhaps even a dependant system, that they are using to manage poorly optimized business processes.

It’s situations like these where a Functional Consultant has the opportunity to propose a solution for the client, and advise on how they can benefit from further adoption of products within the same product family as that in-scope.


Example

Contoso Ltd. is in the market for a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. They have done their homework and landed on Microsoft’s offering — Dynamics 365 (Customer Engagement).

While taking requirements for the new system, the Functional Consultant hears of an integration that is required as part of a future project. It is hoped to extend the data visualization capabilities of the new Dynamics 365 system. Here is a perfect example of where a Functional Consultant’s wider product knowledge can benefit the client's experience, as a conversation can begin around data visualization tools that integrate with Dynamics 365, such as Power BI, a product in the same Microsoft ecosphere with seamless routes to integrate.


One job of a Functional Consultant is to make life easier for both the client and developers, by often acting as a translation layer between the two.


Building Sustainable Solutions


In the forward-thinking world of configuration over customization, it is also the role of a Functional Consultant to build sustainable solutions.


But what are sustainable solutions? Well, they have a few names — sustainable, futureproof, out of the box, forward-thinking, the list goes on, but ultimately, a sustainable solution is one that is designed to stand the test of time, or is at least built to consider the fast-moving and evolving nature of technology.


Coming back to how this relates to the role of a Functional Consultant — it is the job of a Functional Consultant to make sure that the way in which requirements are delivered, is sustainable and not so customized, coded, bespoke, that they will fall over at the first sign of a platform update. I work with a transformational tool called ServiceNow and it provides its updates twice a year so yeah this is kind of a pertinent ask.

Functional Consultants are, contraire to popular perception, solution builders

Functional Consultants are often responsible for creating solutions and delivering on business requirements — a great advantage when they have gathered the requirements themselves. This almost end-to-end chain of accountability further empowers modern, iterative delivery methodologies such as Agile and offers unparalleled transparency and communication for the client.


Now as this post started, we identified a similarity to the role of a Business Analyst. Some reading, may in this latest section notice a similarity to a Solution Architect, even a Developer. This is a realistic observation of a Functional Consultant’s role. There are many mutual skills from across other roles, required to be successful in delivering the best possible solution and client experience.


I hope this helps anyone who is reading this.

Shoutout to Kieran Holmes for most of the inspiration for this article.

Until Next time.