Monday, July 30, 2007

Hourly Rant...

I just finished answering a question posted on LinkedIn by Esther Schindler in researching a article she is working on for

She asks (summarized):

"There's just one question to answer: If you could get the (client) boss(es) to understand JUST ONE THING about computer consulting and contracting, what would it be?

Or, to put the same question another way: If you were given a single wish of something to change (about a current or past client) what would it be?"

My response (lightly edited from the original):

If you are going to hire a consultant, do not ask them to bill by the hour. As a senior person with expertise in an area that you/your team doesn't have expertise in, a consultant had better know what they are doing. As such, it is not the number of hours they spend planted in one of your chair that you are paying them for, it's their results.

For example, if you were to decide that you needed a top of the line, custom-designed, tile floor in your kitchen you would expect to get some kind of quote for the total cost of installation and you would expect to pay exactly that price after the work was done. You would not expect to get a huge discount in price if the work took 1hr instead of the 60hrs you expected... in fact, you might just be inclined to give the installation crew a bonus for not inconveniencing you by driving you out of your kitchen for a week and a half!

Why, then, is it that people who hire consultants insist on paying them by the hour?

First of all, once I get on a plane, my time is yours. Typically I find that I can grossly exceed expectations in about 2 hrs a day OR that I need to put in 20+ hours a day to help you achieve your desired outcome. Either way, to me, each day is still a day that I am away from my family, a day that I can't spend doing something else, another plane ticket, rental car & hotel on my credit card until the client pays, and another day of eating junk from a vending machine, junk from an affordable chain, or wildly overpriced food from a restaurant that still can't compete with home. Basically, in most cases, a day is pretty much a day.

Second, which hours would you like me to bill? The ones that:

a) I'm sitting in your nice little mini-cubical with no computer, no phone, no internet access, no security badge, and essentially no way to accomplish anything while I wait for you to set up some meeting to (in too many cases) brief me on all the stuff that matters least to the ultimate solution?

b) In the hotel with my laptop (that you won't let me bring onto the premises for security reasons), the internet, my notes and my entire network of niche experts on the phone or chat trying to solve your problem?

c) Tailgating at the Brickyard 400, with a key member of the team who invited me to the race, taking mad notes while interviewing him about the *real* reasons behind needing a consultant is for this particular project.

Needless to say, most executives choose a) which essentially encourages the not-so-ethical consultants out there to spend a lot of time sitting in an office looking busy to clock enough hours to be able to bill enough $ to justify them being away from home.

If executives would simply pay based on results instead of hours, I submit that both the consultants and their clients would stop feeling ripped off.

Scott Barber
Chief Technologist, PerfTestPlus, Inc.

Co-Author, Performance Testing Guidance for Web Applications
Author, Web Load Testing for Dummies
Contributing Author, Beautiful Testing, and How To Reduce the Cost of Testing

"If you can see it in your mind...
     you will find it in your life."
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