I was looking at my backlog of work this morning, trying to figure out which task to tackle first. Which email do I respond to? Should I finally finish my December expenses? Prep for one of the many meetings I have scheduled for today??
Oh! I know… the “E” key on my keyboard has been sticking, why don’t I shop around on Amazon to find a replacement keyboard instead of just using one of the other 3 random keyboards I have lying around?
It was a typical day.
As I was searching for that one keyboard-- you know, the one that would somehow magically make me more efficient in all work tasks, ensure less typos, and eventually solve world hunger-- I stumbled on what to be the most extravagant keyboard I’ve ever seen. Behold… “The Baron of Cyprus Keyboard”
For a mere $1,200.00 you can have it too! Copper construction, “premium” materials… Classic Steampunk… I have to admit… I really want it… Too bad it didn’t ship with Prime or I might have pulled the trigger.
It suddenly struck me: This keyboard represents a big problem I face every day in the consulting world. Whether it’s creating a Statement of Work or dealing with a mess left by the last SharePoint “expert”, the very existence of this keyboard tells a story I can relate to, and learn from.
We’ve all been there. We’ve been brought in to solve a problem, improve a process, make life better for employees. We sit down with technical people, managers, business stakeholders and gather their requirements. We listen to their stories, write it all down and painstakingly create a Statement of Work that, like “The Baron of Cyprus Keyboard”, will eventually end global climate change and present it to the user with the sound of angels singing in the background.
“So? What’s the problem?” (I’m guessing you are asking that, I can’t read your mind or hear you).
The problem is this: Gathering requirements without understanding the business drivers or what the true end goals are may create a nice check list of functionality that allows you to deliver exactly what the customer asked for, but very rarely actually addresses any real root problems. Inevitably, these “band aids” put in place by consultants, who understand the technology basics but not how your business operates, becomes such a complicated mess that to effectively maintain the solution you have to spend as much or more than it cost to implement! Don’t even get me started on what takes to upgrade some of these solutions.
“You want a web part that tells you the weather? Well, according to my vast knowledge studying for that certification test I passed last week, we need to set you up a server in Azure, write a provider hosted add-in with custom location identification that changes the screen color based on the time of day, display current radar information, and predicts rainfall... Oh, and I’ll need 6 months and $120,000”
It’s not good enough to try and deliver everything and the kitchen sink to a customer-- or worse-- strong arm the customer into more than they need to increase what you can charge them. Sometimes it’s purposeful, but more often it comes from consultants who truly don’t understand all the options available to them or how to properly develop applications for the client’s particular environment.
The problem is, you just tried to sell a $1,200 keyboard to your client when all they really needed is an “AmazonBasics Wired Keyboard”
Yes, the customer could have had the exact same functionality with Prime shipping for $11.49.
I understand Marketing wants the keyboard that will put all other keyboards to shame, that the CEO’s favorite metal is copper, and you heard that Steampunk design is “the future”. However, you have $25, a tight deadline, and you just need a keyboard.
It’s funny that this problem seems be more rampant as you deal with larger organizations and larger consulting firms. The consulting firms think “Let’s just give them EVERYTHING! Why not? They have the budget.” While the larger organizations think “Why not? They are the experts and we have the budget!” All too often you get an unhappy client and a stubborn consulting firm that digs their heels in and shows how they checked all the boxes in the SOW. Yes, every box is checked, but you don’t have anything useful or usable and users avoid it all costs. It doesn’t have to be this way!!
So? What’s your point?
My point is there ARE consulting firms out there that are truly interested in helping you solve your problems, not just get an invoice paid. One of the things I really like about being a partner at PAIT Group is our philosophy of not just getting work and making money, but getting the NEXT project with a client, building relationships that last and grow. We truly enjoy making our customers look good! Yes, it requires more effort, more attention to detail, and a need to understand not only the goals of a client but also their motivations and true needs. Is PAIT Group the only consulting firm out there to who cares? Absolutely not. My point is, don’t take that Statement of Work at face value. Are your consultants asking the right questions? Meeting with the right people? Are they engaged? Are problems getting solved or just covered up?
“Oh, you really just care about the current weather at one specific location? Well, there’s a dozen free apps I can set for you in 2 minutes or I can throw together a custom script that calls a web service and displays the weather for you in a couple of hours. What can we do for you next?”
A good consulting firm will gather all those requirements and then really work to understand the processes and the pain points. A good firm will ask you about what currently works well, what doesn’t work at all, and after coming to a true understanding of the needs, will work with you to create a scope of work that not only meets the critical requirements you asked for, but also addresses all those needs that you may not have even realized were there! You may not get that copper metal, but you get a Caps Lock light so the user knows why they are typing in all caps and they stop calling the help desk ten times a day because they accidentally bumped the key and can’t figure out why everything they type is in capital letters (it happens, people).
Let’s recap. You just provided a solution to your client that was 99% cheaper by delivering them what they truly needed (a keyboard) and not everything they asked for. That 99% can now be applied to the next project, and because you did such a great job making the client look good you get that next project. It’s a win-win situation and a cycle that can continue leading to long term success for everyone.
One last thought… what about those clients who truly want “The Baron of Cyprus Keyboard”? They’ve got time, they’ve got budget, and gosh darn they want the best!! Well, to those clients I say…. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and do you want copper or gold plated? :)