In honor of his 100th IT Consultant column, Chip Camden highlights 100 member comments that made him think, laugh, or both.
I'm tired just reading your list. I thought I was doing good to draw up a new schedule that includes "getting a life" items.
Start by looking out 10 years (retirement yay!!!). How much will you be making then? How much do you want to be making then? Do you even want to be doing what you are doing?
Then cut it in half (5 years). Where do you need to be in 5 years in order to be where you want to be in 10.
Then cut it in half again (2.5 years). In order to make your 5 year objective, where do you need to be?
Then cut it in half again (1 year). To make your 2.5 year plan where do you need to be?
And so forth, into quarters and months.
Let your 10 year plan drive the shorter plans. Otherwise you'll end up at the end without having what you want.
Keep the 1 year out only plans for when you're in deep doodoo and are looking for a short term exit scheme.
I was referred to a new client who wanted a small (4-page) web site to sell a service. We talked on the phone, I spent a little time creating a strategy, wrote it up, and visited them. And oh, they wanted a a very minimal price....! During the visit they came up with several ideas I had not planned for (could I store the sales online so clients could return and re-order? What about x,y,z?) that greatly expanded both my initial plan and the cost of the project. I suggested at the meeting that I rewrite the proposal into sections and we do the work section at a time. When I did that, and priced section 1 very low by using a temporary intern from a local college, I got approval for section 1 in 2 days. I did a demo of section 1 this week, and they talked about "when" we do the next sections, and there might be other add-ons based on the results. I have done projects like this in the past, but these folks grabbed onto the idea of step-by-step immediately (without any sales pitch). I think their buy-in was greatly increased by doing this in steps, and their comfort with me is increased by taking small steps. It is, so far, successful for both of us.
I'm not known for being a push-over but on this kind of thing I'm forever caving in if initial reasonable attempts at persuasion are unsuccessful. As you say, it IS their project, their business and I DO present myself, more or less, as a hired gun rather than an artist looking at their enterprise as my blank canvas.
With that said, there are sometimes lines to be drawn, where you have to document your exceptions and get a sign-off or graciously find a way out of the project.
All of this is a little easier in my legal work since I have an ethical obligation to maintain professional independence and, strictly speaking, cannot do anything the client's way if I believe it violates good practice. Ethical obligations for lawyers are not merely precatory; you can lose your license for violating them.
I face this as a project manager on a daily basis. The way I react is to present a list of well thought out choices (not more than 4) with pros & cons listed under the categories of Schedule, Scope, Budget, Quality, Satisfaction, Sustainability. I let my customer SIGN OFF on the one they're willing to live with. Make sure the choices are all acceptable whenever possible.
In this scenario you are removed from being the instruction giver and are the knowledgeable consultant again. No one has their professional pride or experience dinged.
with facts only, opions are like a_ s _ o _ e _.
You will know well in advance of the type of personality you are working with. Document, and ask for aknowledgement with a signature, then move on with the task, again documenting everything.
Unfortunately, it's worse than trying to figure out how to determine whether you're getting too close -- you have to figure out how to avoid getting to the point where you worry about whether you're getting too close. If you know you're getting too close, it's too late.
. . . skill development.
Think of all the thousands of dollars you spend on training each year that you could save if you find equally valuable skill development through open source software development. You just need to find the right projects.
I've found that it's important to establish a reputation for not caring about the source of a mistake compared with the correction of the mistake. By exhibiting this "anti-witch hunting" attitude, it tends to be infectious (in a good way). Once people are more interested in "fixing the fault" than "fixing the blame", everyone's mistakes are more readily forgiven, come to light earlier and, as a consequence, cause overall less damage.
Budgeting is a core skill with any small business but especially with consultants.
When building cash reserves always remember to pay yourself first. Roughly 10% of your net should be put into tax-deferred savings (401K I believe is your version of an RRSP). Another 10% should be put into short term savings (i.e. safety net). This should be done before you "pay yourself" (in other words right after paying the company expenses and before subtracting your wage).
One neat trick to help with this is to pay yourself the same wage you would be earning if you were to work for someone else. The remainder (there better be a remainder or you need to get out of the biz) is then put away as a safety net.
One other trick is to use lines of credit. For example, putting your mortgage on a line of credit will allow you to pay down the mortgage when times are good and draw from it when the times are bad. Unlike a credit card which is new, often frivolous purchases, the line of credit is typically limited by the original use (e.g. mortgage).
Fourth tip is to develop multiple streams of income. For many of us, we deal with only one client or group of clients at a time. That's the definition of high risk. If the market goes south on us our income is going to suffer. As entrepreneurs one of the things we need to do is constantly look for ways to leverage our businesses to create new businesses (i.e. multiple streams of income). If one stream dies then presumably the others can take up the slack.
Bottom line, is that you need to spend with discipline. And hope that you're prepared when the land turns to swamp beneath you.
81. PMP'sicle's comment about Avoid the interrupt-driven model of time management: The downside of availability
One of the marketing coaches I subscribe to is Dan Kennedy. In one of his videos he has a time and productivity consultant Lee Milteer talk about procrastination and time management.
During that talk she commented that there are two major downsides to being freely available ... one is the impact on productivity but there is another and more important impact ... people do not respect people they can connect with directly. We're programmed to believe that important people (CEOs, COOs, CIOs, and company Presidents) all have secretaries and gatekeepers. These people arrange their days and appointments. If you can be immediately reached then you obviously don't have a gatekeeper and therefore obviously can't be important. If you want people to believe that you are worth the money (or more) then you need to convince them that you are too busy servicing other people who want your time to waste time answering their unimportant questions.
Interesting take by a marketing type. It does however, explain why being on site full-time is such a blow to our credibility as consultants.
82. Justin James's comment about Avoid the interrupt-driven model of time management: Good stuff
I've been railing about this for years. At my last job, my entire day would work like this. Heck, everyone who was not an hourly employee worked like this. As a result, none of us got "real work" done 9 - 5, we had to wait until we were home and physically out of the office to get our actual jobs done. And even that was prone to interuption.
I think you missed something critical though, and that is the cost of context switching. There are lots of studies out there that show that a 1 minute interruption adds up to a LOT more than 60 seconds of lost productivity. That's why having your email constantly open or being available on IM are deadly. It's why I refuse to use Twitter. If it takes me 60 seconds to get back on track after a 15 second interruption, how could I handle that? I've found that if 2 people are IM'ing me at once, my ability to do work is effectively zero, even if it is not a constant back-and-forth; waiting for them to respond every 30 seconds is just as bad as immediate responses.
83. JohnMcGrew's comment about Creating a productive work space: An IT consultant's office essentials: Lap Desk
Not sure it has a name. It's a very simple affair; a 13x17 flat surface with a bean-bag on the bottom. Very comfortable to use, and quite necessary during the warmer months. I recall finding it online a dozen or so years ago at the suggestion of my wife. Nowadays, you can find various versions everywhere, like at Bed Bath and Beyond.
People buy for emotional reasons. Not rational reasons -- emotional reasons. Rational reasons are used after the decision to justify the decision. (ouch)
What that translates to is that one of the first things to identify is what emotions will drive or prevent the purchase. Then identify the elements (like Chip's list) which will affect (or better effect) those emotions. By answering the elements in your pitch, you satisfy the emotions which support a purchase decision.
That's the basis behind all those "Dan Kennedy" direct action sales letters you see masquerading as web pages. The reason they are the length and format they are is that they are focused on making you feel good about your purchase ... Effectively making you want to buy.
People are notoriously hard to sell to ... but they're very happy to buy.
When selling to companies we need to remember that we never actually sell to companies. We sell to people in those companies. We sell to the recruiter, we sell to the hiring manager, we sell to their boss. These are all individuals - these are all people who are making emotional commitments to buy.
85. kingmail53's comment about Encourage your IT consulting clients to embrace innovation: basic rules of life
Two basic rules of life are:
1) Change is inevitable
2) Everybody resists change.
- W. Edwards Deming
IT personnel often feel they are instruments of change. They are, most often of other peoples' change. IT personnel are, in reality, just as resistant to change, of themselves, as everyone else.
As Gen. Eric Shinseki put it, "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less."
IT Leadership (and I don't mean management) must work to overcome the issues of change just as much as Leaders from other parts of the company must.
As a consultant one must decide if you wish to assist your customer to be a leader, or a manager.
...I might put up with it more. But one of the lessons it took me the longest to learn in this business is that people who do not pay or do not consider you enough of a priority to pay over others are not worth the trouble in the long run. Better to put that energy to clients and projects that do pay.
<< I just installed an EMR app for a client that the EULA states explicitly that the app is able to be remotely crippled in the event of non payment or even a bad attitude >>
crippled app for a "bad attitude" ? don't try that with any clients who have any brains
the problem with crippling apps is that what you have is a contract claim against a non-payer ... the law provides a remedy for you but it isn't self-help and intimidation; you sue for non-payment; remember that some clients consider that they have a defense to your claim and they are entitled to assert it
You might instead write up a license which stipulates that in the event of non-payment client agrees that the license to use the software is terminated and take it from there ...
1) Keep a 'Super Resume' that goes into too much detail for anyone - but you...it's fast and easy to delete to size (focusing on each opportunity while doing so), thus eliminate irrelevant details while including everything that matters for the job.
2) When posting a Resume on the Web, remember that a Human is unlikely to ever see it if a Web-Resume-Selection Engine likes the 'Keywords' it finds. In my Skills section is a list of Keywords designed to attract a search engine. narrative is sketchy on the Web Resume, and many will request a current one from you - that's where you tailor the Super-Resume and send it (with narratives for human use).
89. PMP'sicle's comment about When clients embrace innovation for the wrong reasons: Unrealistic Expectations
It's not just that it could turn into an albatross.
Using unrealistic expectations as your baseline, sets you up for failure. A perfectly good practise or technology or process (or any other type of innovation) gains a bad reputation and is rejected as a result.
As a result, you will reject the use of the tool in precisely the situation where it is of most use.
To illustrate with a silly example ... you decide to adopt the newest innovation ... steel nails. They're great, perfect ... easy, quick, one smash with a hammer and they go straight in. So you try them when installing floor boards. Oops, shoulda used screws! Floor squeeks. So you reject using steel nails. Then when you go to install the 1/4 round you go back to that ol' standby -- screws (DO NOT TRY THIS IN REAL LIFE BTW).
(Can you tell I'm doing renovations? )
Always found these three to be perfect.
Respect for the individual
(ie. my client's staff)
Go the extra mile to do a thing right.
Spend alot of time making the client happy.
Another good motto, and a simple one, came from BATMAN RETURNS, spoken by Danny DeVito as the Penguin. If you get this down, you have much of what life can throw at your in a mangaged state.
Two words = genius.
My wife always said we should put this phrase on our logo in Latin. We may not charge for a service, but we always get something for it, at least recognition and/or satisfaction of serving the profession. Some other guidance we live by:
I am responsible for my results.
A boat doesn?t sink on just one side.
Never turn down good business.
Everything works out for the best.
Learn from everything.
Congratulations, Chip; and thank you for this and so many other good columns of advice. We?ll be celebrating our consultancy?s 27th corporate anniversary in July.
Nobody hires consultants for easy jobs.
I really enjoyed your column. It sounds like we need to remember to insert the ART form into our project methodology. As an old CHIT manager, we use this strategy every time we needed to get a project done. (A - Always begin promptly R - Reject all negative thought T - Take action now and adjust when necessary) Let the CITS fall!
<< .. and a lot of times a client who is also a "friend" will expect that you'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Not that they would return the favor >>
exactly ... and there are some friends you can do without; my bottom line is you have to keep in mind which clients, if any, are REALLY friends and which ones are just people who you get along with pretty well and like ... because a real friend I might indeed give the benefit of the doubt to ... in the end, it's all a matter of being pragmatic and doing what's in your long-term interest and hope that aligns with the client's interest
Another way I've fallen victim of procrastination and have seen other fall into it too is "learning cycles".
You can start procrastinating because you're not well versed enough in the technology, language or tool you'll be using. You haven't read all the books and articles on the matter yet. You read and read and read thinking something is getting done "for the project".
I've found that prototyping is a good way to stop procrastinating on this and the issue you mention. Take the title of "official" and play with the project a bit. This helps to sort out the ideas and problems the project may hold and hide. Helps remove some of the burden produced by "unknown variables" that then leads to further procrastination.
96. biancaluna's comment about Dealing with negativity: Stop naysayers from derailing a project: Oh yeah,
I had a discussion with my project sponsor last week about what I dubbed the Emotional Black Hole in this organisation that nearly derailed my project. I had to bring it back from the trainwreck it was when I took over from the previous PM who chucked it in.
What I saw:
- Towing the company line is a foreign concept, there is no backbone in the leadership to encourage the One Voice
- The business is afraid to let go of "secrets"
- I was an outsider, spot on the money
- It ain't broken
- We should not be doing this, deliberate obstruction
- Fear of exposure how bad the current state really is
- But we've tried in 1969 and it failed
- It will never work, nothing ever works around here
- But the new system does not solve world hunger nor does it wash my car or bake a pecan pie
- We should wait until....
Seen it all. It is mostly about the fear of change. This is why I engaged a change manager and focussed a lot on the arm around the shoulder. But the sponsor did not have my back, he dropped me in a mess without support as he felt threatened, we were uncovering a big mess.
Once we had a good honest heart to heart about this, we could move on. For stage 2, I am identifying the likely obstructive forces in the business and giving them ownership in how we turn things around. It might just work. If not, I will be the sacrificial lamb, yet again.
Isn't that my job?
I'm a bit wary about specialization, because it can lead to becoming 'pigeonholed' into specific roles and/or industries.
For example, I'm now looking to finalize my third contract with the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK -- I haven't got any particular interest in health care, but whenever the recruiters keyword NHS and SharePoint, I pop up at the top of the list. Hot market, but I don't necessarily want to get too locked-in to it.
On of my own 'pet' projects is to do stuff related to aviation. However, these clients are typically NOT computer-oriented or technical.
If you're talking about the 'mom and pop' flying school, they also don't have a lot of money -- so to get a contract means demonstrating clear and immediate results that will save them time and/or money.
I wanted to tackle an interesting project on how to provide flying schools with a 'fully integrated' portal-based system that would do this.
Conventional thinking would produce a feature list something like this:
- Financial Account Management
- Credit Card Processing
- Interface with Popular Accounting Systems
- Training Management
- Interface with External Systems
- Resource Scheduling
However, to the average person who has been involved in a mom and pop flight school for 20 or 30 years -- such a list is meaningless. It doesn't spell out how it will HELP them in their daily work.
Instead, I decided to write a 'day in the life of' story for people involved in the organization. Non-technical, friendly and up-beat -- leaving it to the client to see the difference between how they do things 'now' vs. how they 'could' be doing things...
It started out like this...
"Joe (the flight training student) gets up ? it is early and he?s anxious to progress with his training! He logs into the portal at 08:00, and receives several notification messages to which he must respond.
The first message is about the balance of his account ? it is approaching the warning level. No problem, he clicks a button and the predetermined amount is automatically debited from his credit card. Five seconds later, the message goes away.
The accounts manager is delighted! She arrives to work to find the list of transactions generated since yesterday -- ready to import into the accounting system. No overdue accounts today!
The next message reminds Joe that he needs to book and complete his Stalls and Spins flight lesson with an instructor.
The system 'knows' that he has already completed the theoretical readings and practice quiz for this lesson ? so all that remains now is to make the booking with an instructor.
Joe sees from the weather application in the corner of the portal screen that both the national forecast and the flying club's weather station report perfect VFR flying conditions -- projected to remain so, and that there is only a light crosswind. Super!
Joe decides he?d like to get that lesson out of the way ASAP, so he requests a booking first at the first available spot. The system produces a list of possible options of aircraft, instructor and time. Joe
selects aircraft N92180 at 12:00 with instructor Fred Fine.
Fred is immediately sent an email message to which he must respond before the booking is finalized, but as far as Joe is concerned, he?ll plan to be to the airport by 11:00 to complete all the paperwork and the to file the flight plan that the system has generated for him.
Fred was already on the way to the airport when the booking request came in, but after 10 minutes without a response, the system followed it up with an SMS message to his phone. No problem! Just hit Reply to send the confirmation.
Minutes later, Joe also receives an SMS text to his phone confirming the booking..."
Did it work? Hell yes! Here is the response back from the client:
"This would be a DREAM system...wow...can this really be done? Bringing it all together is brilliant, but I get dizzy just trying to think of all the details..."
Sometimes we have to put ourselves into the shoes of the client to really find out what their pain is and figure out ways to cure it...
In my experience, and I have been doing this for almost 2 decades, the lack of knowledge about the business is a major issue for the business . See, many business divisions don't have a big picture view, at times they don't have a clue what they do or what they need. Even some large IT outsourcing companies I worked for in the past, had limited understanding here (touches heart) and here (touches head) about what it is they actually did and could not articulate that very well.
I work in Govt and semi govt organisations a lot, consulting is a black art in these environments as these types of organisations do not view themselves as a business. what you propose is the ideal situation, that is hardly ever reality. As a consultant, I look for similarities in processes and validate those with the business when a project commences, we do need to help the business with the right questions.
That is experience, not scope definition.
about a client today for unstated but overarching reason number 0, can't break even with them.
If you can't at least make your costs, they aren't a customer.
There REALLY are people who are naive/dense enough to not understand that what they are asking is illegal/unethical. But more than likely they are pretending to think this so that they can plead ignorance when or if they get caught. The way to tell the difference, at least with larger companies, is to ask that a company attorney sign off on the request. You still won't do it but at least you can classify the requester!
From the comments, you can see that not all of the readers agreed with my original post -- and I didn't always agree with everything the readers said, either. But these responses made me think, laugh, or both. Sometimes the comments were the inspiration for another column; sometimes the comments were the starting point for a heated thread; and sometimes the comments were the last word of a thread.
Thanks again to all of you readers, and especially those of you who make the discussion interesting by commenting frequently. Sorting through all of the comments to find the 100 to post here was a wearying exercise (though worthwhile); in my stupor, I may have overlooked some comments that I would liked to have included. If you're disappointed that I didn't feature one of your comments of which you're particularly proud, please bring it to my attention in the discussion.Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!