Friday, December 4, 2009

Travel: 3 hints to Getting around in Germany (and neighboring countries)

Traveling about Europe just got a little bit harder for me (and maybe for you too).

The train station (at least the Dutch ticket counter at Schipol Airport) only takes credit card transactions with PIN entry. Which means the corporate card I use was not good for me. So if you travel by train in these areas you might consider the following:

  1. buy your tickets in advance online 
  2. pre-order Eurail passes for multiple countries multiple days
  3. carry cash
Up until recently I could count on buying the tickets at the ticket window with my credit card and signature. However the EU has been shifting more and more to PIN transactions (for security) however if you are like me you may have a corporate card with no PIN (avoid high cash advance fees etc). But that means that the US is getting to be a minority among developed nations in regards to the handling of these "signature" transactions. 


Buy online: Honestly the first two hints are really the same. But I find that I can spot buy the tickets and print out very easily the rail tickets I need by using the DeutscheBahn (DB) web site. If I know that I want even more travel I will buy the Eurail pass. As long as you travel at least 5 days by rail within 60 days, and average  200 km each day this option makes sense. It amounts to roughly $300 US ($60/day) the trip from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf (Nord-Rhein) region was 65Euro (nearly 90 dollars). The Germany-Benelux option is my most used ticket. I Also used the 3 country select pass. For a small premium taking the night train for very long trips (700-800 km) the night train is a great deal. You pay a small add-on in addition to the rail pass to get a bed for the night (saves the hotel room fee, and you arrive at destination bright eyed and busy tailed).

Cash is always a smart option when traveling. Travelers checks are getting more difficult and expensive to cash and convert into Euros. I use a service away from the Airport to convert my dollars to Euros before I leave. The rates are competitive to any airport exchange and hotel concierge. ATMs give decent rates at times, but surcharges pop up unexpectedly. So I have shyed away from them.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Consulting: time for money? You are a HO

Selling your time for money? Then you too are a HO. Lawyers do it, doctors do it, even psycho-analysts do it!



With the exception of the lawyers, those professions where the it is the norm to sell your time for money do not get cast as blood sucking leeches. But with engineering consultants we get cast in a negative light for being mercenary when we invoice for consultations and in many cases people expect to get quite a bit for free.

Here are some guidelines for billing:

  • it all should pay
  • set solid standard rates for activities
  • don't equate effort to value
  • bill on regular intervals

It all pays:
All your time has value. Don't set bad precedent by under valuing your own time. Remember your clients learn how to treat you from you. My good friend Danny runs a consultancy and recently had a brief discovery meeting to decide how much to quote for the larger project (effort he thought was needed to put together the quote). However, his assessment was that the project was much smaller than the client thought. This conclusion requires his expertise and therefore has value. His decision to not quote is in itself an engineering service one he ended up giving away for free. On my suggestion we are looking at a new discovery process that he bills for.


Set solid rates:
This idea for Danny only works if he has a predictable cost structure for his "products". Discovery, off site or asynchronous work, on site, travel days, research, etc. It is very important to realize and communicate that you value your time. Recall that if you can't bill others for the time you allocate for these activities that you are losing revenue. Set clear expectations. Things I can sleep while doing get the lowest day rate (travel), things that eat up the most of my temporal and intellectual capital get hit at the highest hourly or fixed project rates (i.e. Creating things).


Don't equate effort for value:
If you have the ability to knock out killer web pages or technical white-papers without breaking sweat doesn't mean that you should give it away. If you set precedent by setting a low bar future work (which may be more challenging) might not get it's due. If you provide unique benefit bill like it. If you fear you can't deliver that level of value get a JOB and forget about consulting.


Bill on regular intervals:
Set up a schedule for invoicing. You learn a lot about your clients by how they pay their bills, and these lessons are better learned sooner than later (when you really need the money). Don't forget you can't repo that intellectual and temporal capital.

Embrace your inner Techni-ho and remember "show me the money"

Friday, October 30, 2009

Consulting: Technical Training pitfalls

A recent post by my friend Tim Stephens (i bet his filtrbox is ringing right now) http://www.dieguy.com/2009/10/29/confidence/stephens/ brought up one of the problems with the way many conduct technical training (software training, skill trades training, maching repair, etc). If the training does not prepare the student to DO, then it is useless. Training where the "instructor" piles on technical details and trivia that don't support the NEEDED activities, are of no value.

For example, in a training class for a software tool, that will remain nameless, the "instructor" provided a dissertation on the underpinnings of the software. Aspects of the software, that had nothing to do with the operation of the program or the completion of a job. In fact Tim will probably remind me that much of the discussion focused on the way the prior version used to handle something, that was automated in the new version. Yes, hours of class were spent discussing features that did not exist anymore. How did that help the student do his/her job?

Training that does not focus on what the student needs to be able to do, and does not require them to apply knowledge serves only as ego stroking for the "instructor". The students need to feel free to try things out, make mistakes, and it is OK for them to leave knowing that there are things they don't know yet. Don't try to cram their heads with every little nugget of information, they will leave not knowing which to use in getting the job done.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Consulting: Failure is an option!



Pretty poor paraphrasing, but still on point. When outlining a project with your clients one must ensure that any "failure" is, in fact, success. A common mistake that dooms many engineering consulting projects is the failure on the part of the Techni-HO in question from recognizing that sometimes they may successfully arrive at an answer of "NO".

This is different from prior discussions on the concept of "Shooting the Moon" Guarantees earlier mentioned here. But instead a need for you the Techni-HO to be able to recognize a no-win situation long before it ever happens.

For example, a common engineering problem in my other life as a Self-Proclaimed-Die-Expert is Formability and Springback. I'll pick on formability since it is the easier one. Some of the early tricks in my career relied on my forming "expertise" to identify and correct forming issues. These forming issues were usually automotive sheet metal parts (big body panels, exterior and under body) that split. Of course, producing fenders for Cadillacs and hoods for Oldsmobiles that had big splits in them was totally unacceptable.

The idea was to make the splits go away. It was our roll to make them go away, but here is the trap, what if the splits can't go away? What if there is no solution to fully resolve the failure? We always had to be careful not to take too much ownership in the absolute execution of the solution. For if the suggested solution does not resolve the problem then what do you do next?

We tell them that to make the splits go away they need to reduce the strain in that area x%. By definition in sheet metal the split is an indication or symptom of excessive strain. It would be a mistake to point out that they need to increase or decrease some specific variable to fix the split. (unless you are very good at recognizing the "moon-shot" opportunity).

Carefully craft your solution. The good news is that many of your customers won't recognize restatement of the problem, as a failure to solve the problem.
Return to profitability, by bringing revenues and expenditures in balance. (no shit!?!)
The "HOW" is for the process stakeholders (your clients) to decide and implement. Help them use process to identify potential solutions, help them to implement, then be ready to be the one to measure the success of the change. Just be smart enough to say, "that didn't do it, but we are headed in the right direction. Or that was wrong, now we know it is not related to [yada yada yada]."

I hope you never promised that a specific implementation would achieve the required end. After all, a plausible solution might not exist for their given parameters. However, we may eliminate a plan that did not work, and that has value.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Consulting attitude: hired guns

Quite often the consultant is hired because the client already knows what they need to do, they just did not know how to get it done or in some cases could not risk the political capital. Lean consultants don't get hired unless the client already knew they were running "fat". HR consultants often get hired because the management does not have the fortitude or strength of will to do the onerous head-chopping that the "efficiency experts" will eventually proffer as a solution.


As a Techni-HO you are often sought out because you are an outsider, you are not mired in the details for the day-to-day business and will have hopefully the insight to see what people in the company have blinded themselves to and to follow through with relatively distasteful action.  You are the hired gun, there to do the job that they themselves won't do.

A manager at one of my contracts once told me--very insightfully--that he appreciated that we were there since we paid attention to the details and the follow through that they for purposes of self preservation did not like to bring to light. We had the dirty job of recognizing potential for growth in their process (which if they admitted it would have appeared to be weaknesses in their process).

Too often the voice of the outsider is feared by the in-house staff, they were threatened by our presence and undermined us at nearly every turn, but when it became clear that we would carry these unpopular messages to the forefront and champion their cause we found unlikely allies.

The story I hear often is this "a consultant is hired to tell the manager what time it is in the plant. The consultant walks around the plant checking everybody else's watches takes the readings and then communicates that time back to manager." Many who hear this story think, "how stupid, why did not the manager just do that himself?". The answer to that is if the manager did, he would immediately appear weak in front of his people. He would seem poorly informed, and when he declared the time many whose watches did not correlate would be angry that he did not take their word for it.

Instead by hiring the consultant to do the tedious data collect and present an answer, he removed that risk from himself. He also gained the benefit of an expendable resource he could turn on if the number was not correct (for this reason he could not require this task of one of his internal resources). Techni-HOs serve a purpose they are the needed muckrakers that every world needs but many are unwilling to admit they need.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Consulting tips: drink the kool-aid, believe and practice what you sell

As a Techni-HO you probably from time to time will have to advocate strategies and practices that in previous life seemed abhorrent to you. After all, you collect fees from clients to serve them and not yourself. Similar to the power of "we" "drinking the Kool-aid" is a highly necessary and powerful consulting tool that one must develop with prowess if one is to succeed.


The easiest thing is to only do and support the ideas that you believe, however if life was that easy we wouldn't need "blood sucking parasites" like consultants in the first place. So the next best strategy is to find the little things that work and apply them to your consulting work whole heartedly to the point of near fanatacism. One example for me was 5S and the visual workplace. I am a sloppy person I thrive in a certain level of chaos in my desk and car. So when the project I supported started promoting 5S it really was a moral dilemma (I ran work shops teaching the methods that I could not truly support personally). The work became painful, dull, and irritating.

In order for me to get through I started 5Sing (not really a word?) Everything; fanatically- my desk, the drawers, my car, my entire on project existence (I went so far as to mark out a place for my mug and the cord of my phone) once I was fully entrenched into the overzealous application of the method, I found humor and fun in my madness. Since the coffee cup could never make it back to the right spot, I glued a coaster with the green boundary around the base and properly labeled "Kam's coffee mug".

This mis-application of the method showed a very entrenched knowledge of the system to my "trick" and taught me to believe in what was useful about the method and where to draw the line. I started to believe, after that the training was better for them and me. Drinking the Kool-aid required the leap of faith on my part and in doing so - gained the trust of my client. Which was truly the problem at the beginning they could see I did not practice what I preached and may have been flogging the flavor of the month.

Now the world is filled with more systems (lean this and that, green initiatives, and new flavors of the month) take a step towards the edge, embrace the dark side, and drink the Kool-aid. Otherwise you are merely "whoring".

Eric Kam, broadcasting from an undisclosed location via BlackBerry

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Power of "WE"



As a Techni-HO it is important that after you have established the business relationship or John-to-ho that you quickly drop the mercenary image. Nothing will hamper your efforts as a consultant faster and more persistently than the realization that you are a "blood-sucking leech, making a living off the inefficiency of your host company" (which face it, YOU ARE). However, they don't need to know that.

For this it is important to adopt the method of WE-ism. In We-ism you will no longer refer to your host company, john, or client as "YOU". Nothing is more off-putting to the client than being told by some outsider that "YOU must do" or "What YOU need". It reinforces the fact that in the Win-Win contract your win is to get paid for the consulting gig, and not necessarily upon the success of the client. You are not in it together, you have "no skin in the game". This is a losing proposition.

What "WE" want to instill in our "customers", or "hosts", or "tricks" is confidence that their success is our success. That we have a stake in their ultimate success, and that we are in the same boat. That will never happen as long as you continually refer to them as "You" and yourself or your team separately.

Instead you will now say consistently "WE". Repeat after me: "We will implement a cross functional team structure," or "We will act quickly to find the root cause of the analysis," or "We will apply diligent data collect to identify ....". Getting the company logo tattooed on "OUR" buttocks might be going a little over the top, but not altogether off the mark for commitment that "WE" should make to "OUR" success.

The power of the "WE" must be part of "OUR" daily life.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Consulting Success Guaranteed!!! 3 steps to promising RESULTS

When delivering technical consulting the slippery slope we all ride is the risk that our expertise may ever lead our customers astray. The fear that our credibility, our reputation, and future are on the line with every piece or distilled techni-HO wisdom we send out in the world. We have to be bold with our promises but of course must hedge everything.

The delicate balancing we seek is provide the over the top promise of a brighter future that will open up our clients wallet, while not exposing our soft underbellies to the risk of failure and and future destitution.

  1. Define finite and feasible goals
  2. Speak to the customers pains/needs
  3. Shoot the moon


First, finite goals. Many an engineering project has gone astray because the consultant has promised something that cannot be delivered. Recently that has included, develop "Robust Compensation plan for production stampings" (remind me to blog that out in the stamping blog), design light weight rechargeable batteries for hybrid cars, and develop sustainable cold fusion. Now, why are these examples of bad promises that don't meet the criteria of finite goals?
  • an acceptable result might not exist. For those who know anything about stamping (go to other blog to learn) it is possible the ideal result is not there. And now our client might expect it
  • defined goal is relative (who says what is light weight?)
  • The goal may be totally unattainable, or if they are it takes too long to get there
Instead, the goals must be finite and achievable on a time line. Don't promise the result but perhaps the enablers to the results, "establish the process and install the technology for achieving robust springback compensation." This is achievable. We know how to install the process, we can define the process and needed technology. There is less chance of bloat in the scope.

Second, speak to the customers pains/needs. With this we need to put the benefit in front of the customer immediately, so that it is clear what they gain by paying our fee (also establishing the disproportionate value statement needed for the Win-Win). "Install the process and technology for achieving robust springback compensation, for a potential reduction in tryout time of 50%" this particular type of promise is very nice as we promise the installation of a process and new technology which is very provable and measurable, and link it to a benefit that is not entirely measurable, since if they do follow our process they can never know what the entire exposure was. i.e. "Imagine how long it wold have taken otherwise..."

Third, Shoot the moon. Shooting the moon is the tricky one, it requires being big and flashy and very much covering your bottom. What I mean by "shooting the moon" is a way to Guarantee Success. Yes, Guarantee success, onto which you can put any type of promise to the customer. 100% refund, slavery for life, your first born. The "shoot the moon" guarantee works like this. Your promise what you mention in 1 and 2 above of the delivered results promise, then guarantee the result IF ________. The "if ________" is where you all will earn your true techni-HO stripes in knowing what the key if is. It usually involves something like "do what ever i say", but can't be that transparent. Most consulting clients should be smart enough to spot a bad guarantee like this but maybe not. Most of us fall for it regarding lifetime warranties on anything we buy. Lifetime satisfaction guarantee (just keep the receipt, the original packaging, never get wet, and NEVER FEED AFTER MIDNIGHT.)

Shooting the moon, requires a highly insightful knowledge of your customer, and knowing exactly how they will self destruct your and their hard work. I call it shoot the moon for this simple analogy.
I can promise any nation on the earth that they can become a world economic super power if they follow me advice and with my assistance put a man on the moon. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Finite and achievable, speaks to need and desire, and has an escape clause. Because truly, any nation no matter how small if they manage to put a man on the moon, they probably were already a world super economic power, my idea just got them the recognition. Those are results and i get paid.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Organizational dynamics, the Techni-HO and an awkward analogy about religion

Let's see if we can stir the pot a little bit.

I have noticed as i ventured from company to company interesting trends among the employees and employers of the various places i worked. This one I will call "Finding ones religion". When many a re born they enter into religion (not by their own choice but by the choice of their parent, community, or national standards). This is much like your first job. You have a traumatic and disorienting experience (birth=college graduation), and leave the isolated and protected environment you knew (womb=university) and enter the WORLD.

In this world you find shortly after birth a community of seemingly welcoming individuals. These individuals follow some sort of code, or tenets, or dogmatic teachings that as far as you know are the way of the WORLD. There is no other way, why would there be, this is how it is. For a great many people this world order is great, there is no reason to challenge it, and we work and work happily in this our natural born religion/company.

It may happen the over time we either leave the "church" or it leaves us (down sizing = excommunication, quitting = schism/reformation). Left without the grounding of this religion/job we are forced to find another way in the world. This new found job (born again = rehired) offers for us a new salvation from doom and destitution. And we welcome the new teachings of this place as mighty and righteous as it is clear that this is the path to salvation. Born Again.

Perhaps here we find long lasting peace and tranquility. However, for many the possibility still exists that we have not found our home. And again either through heretical thought or action, or ostracism by the organization we find ourselves out in the cold with neither faith nor community. Yet all is not lost and we again can find something to believe in (or at least something that we can latch onto). But now wiser and perhaps a little jaded we learn to live with the imbalances brought out by the dogmatic beliefs of those around us, we learn which ideas or thoughts will not spark heretical criticism, and we take what we can from the experience (nirvana, enlightenment, independence).

What does this have to do with being a techni-HO? Being a former trainer (and a damn good one at that) i tend to speak in analogs; this is no exception. These i hope can serve as archetypes for learning how to deal with those we work with/for out in the world. There are the neophytes (those born into religion/company), the born-again, the pilgrims, and the missionaries. Techni-HOs tend to be missionaries, who after years of pilgrimage will amass the wisdom of the Buddha and be able to bring the light to the neophytes. But their really is nothing more difficult than the born-again who believes they have seen the world and know what time it is.

we'll see where this takes us? (actually just me, since nobody really reads this blog)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What I learned as a Techni-HO (10 lessons of independent consulting)

Lesson 1: If I have a blog and want to get traffic you need to make lists and publish them
Lesson 2: The Win-Win is a lie, but go ahead and make the most of it
Lesson 3: there is value in being a HO
Lesson 4: there is value in having a techni-pimp
Lesson 5: Guarantee your work (with smart provisos)
Lesson 6: Selling time for money is tiring, better if you can sell someone else's time (pimping)
Lesson 7: A failure is sometimes the answer that the customer is looking for
Lesson 8: In the valley of the blind the one-eyed man is king
Lesson 9: The power of "WE"
Lesson 10: Coming up with 10 items for an advise blog is harder than it seems

I will admit that I did not really think this list out too well at the onset. But with the knowledge I gleaned from perusing the top sites at Alltop.com I saw that the most forwarded and shared blogs tried to simmer down the complex into list. So, that is what i will attempt. It is truly as sad intro for what I really wanted to blog about which was lesson 2: the win-win lie.

The Win-Win lie
Is that controversial (hope so, that also drives eyeballs to the site)? It seems that people, myself included have at one time or another espoused some situation as a Win-Win scenario. However, the terms of the Win-Win are very rarely completely level. I think it is more a Win-settle-for-what-we-let-you-have scenario at best. Additionally, I have learned that you can't trust the people who offer Win-Win too often.

My friend Gregg Wilson-whose wisdom and guidance I miss tremendously-put it the best.
You get three offers to play poker with some acquaintances. The first player says "let's play some cards. Sure we'll play for money, but it's just for fun. I'll win some money, maybe lose some. So may you and everybody else. It'll be fun for all". The second player says "Let's play some poker. You and I can take these other guys money. If you and I stick together we could make a killing." The third player says "we'll play some cards, I want to win and so do you. I'm gonna do what it takes to win, and so will you. If you can clean me out, if I can I will clean you out too." Who do you trust?
 Player 3. He is the only player whose intentions are clear and honest. The other two "Win-Win" offers are not to be trusted, as the underlying theme of poker and of life in the business world is "me first". Anything else is dressed up "me first". 

 That being the case, I am not saying that Win-Wins are bad entirely. On the contrary they are a wonderful tool, but we need to know that going in and we need to be the ones who can define the terms underlying the "win-win" lie. You see the last player in that example of Gregg's did in fact have a "win-win" in his description. After all if he did in fact clean you out, you may learn something of value that allows you more wins later. If you clean him out, he too will probably not let that happen again and he does benefit. The key to the win-win is the asymmetrical value proposition. You offer something of value for the other parties, that you in return get what you value.

Successful win-wins will offer the most value for each participant without depreciating the other. As a consultant you most likely have skills and knowledge that may not be fully adding value to you. After all being an independent supply chain, or lean enterprise, or (insert specialty here) guru is really not that rewarding or profitable. However, your knowledge and expertise when sold as a techni-ho to willing participants gives you a chance to make a living, and gives them what they need--most likely for the short term with all the perks of working with consulting whores like you. That is a win-win. Chances are the value of your applied knowledge will net them large savings or improvements, at a scale that far eclipses your meager project rate. In the meantime that knowledge offered you know potential for gain until you sold it. You both win just different things.

Where the win-win gets really messy is when forming allegiances, alliances, or partnerships. There the win-win is not properly asymmetrical, as most of the time this potential partner is willing to "share" some of the win with you in return for your assistance. Beware this win-win. As it can turn parasitic in the long run; it is very similar to playing cards with either Player 1 or 2 for while they may be willing to share some winnings with you they will eventually need/want to have all the chips. The skills and talent offering would have to be completely independent and complimentary for this to work. And most of the time somebody does get burned.

As a moral of the story, I hope this is the takeaway. Win-wins are useful little lies, if we are the ones who define the terms. Otherwise, you will be getting the short end of the stick.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

Road-HO and Techni-ho travelblog

We techni-HOs tend to do a fair amount of traveling as well, so a needed thread here is business travel tools review and blog. Among indespensible tools of the trade are:

One-bag
I still have not fully converted to the one-bag philosophy to be honest, but most of the hints here are still useful if used piecemeal. I tend to travel overseas alot and have not fully committed to only one bag-- I always get 2 free checked bags (platinum elite after flying 90,000 miles before the end of August this year). The does and don't of packing in this case and the checklists have really been a good reality check for me. I still aspire to be a one-bag kind of traveler, but since I tend to travel two weeks at a time and don;t really like the idea of washing my socks and drawers in the hotel sink, I will stand to carry a slightly bigger bag.
Worldmate Live
This so far has been a life saver. The idea behind Worldmate is that after you book a trip, you email the itinerary from your registered email account to trips@worldmate.com. When the automated system receives the email from your account, it automatically adds it to your list of trip in your itineraries. I have tried other services like Tripit.com, but soon found Worldmate more to my liking since it had a free Blackberry app (also for iPhone, Nokia, WindowsMobile, Palm, and UIQ). The app for most platforms enables you to keep sync'd with the online itinerary (edit online or mobile), get maps, find nearby businesses.
The online itinerary manager also allows merges itinerary and hotel confirmations from the same time period into a single trip. So even if you booked the flights, hotels, cars, trains, buses, and even meeting via separate sites; they all land on the same trip and are therefore viewed in the same timeline. This has been a life save since often when overseas, I hope from one airline to another (booked separately for cost) and if I had to track the printed itineraries separately it would increase the chance of a missed connection.
ekit passport sim card
A phone that can make and receive calls at reasonable rates for most "civilised" countries is also a fine tool. Using my Verizon Crackberry overseas is hit and miss regarding the rates, and worst of all the airtime for roaming is very high making and receiving calls. In the EU and other European countries to receive calls is free with the ekit phone, that reduced my phone costs by more than half. Outgoing calls to the US is not too bad about 2/3 or less of using the Verizon phone.
Another option they offer is to assign you both and UK (+44) and US (+1) number for your friends and family to call. This makes them calling you cheaper, but will make you have to pay a 0.19 surcharge for in the incoming received call (as opposed to them paying long distance to the mobile phone 0.25-0.35/ minute). The ekit also includes a per-per-use data service, something that many low cost pre-paid local sim cards won't offer.
On the down side, outgoing calls made while overseas are programmed as a "call-back" service so it can be a pain, and the people you call won't be able to recognize your caller-id.
Kayak
Y'all should already know about this popular travel rate crawler. It trolls the internet to identify the best travel sites for your trip. I continue to use this even though my current employer requires we book through their travel agent. I use the site to force the favored itinerary onto the travel agent. Still nice.
So that's all for now. Maybe more comes to me later.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

To the Techni-Johns: Why use consultants?

A fundamental question is why would smart people who are captains of industry (plant managers, executives, generals, etc) hire Techni-HOs to begin with? What value is their in these high priced assets?

S.P.E.C.

  1. Specialized
  2. Portable
  3. Expendable
  4. Culpable
Techni-HOs are specialists, usually in some skill or knowledge that we ourselves have no access to. You can expect the HO to do things that you can't ask your spouse to (am I taking this analogy too far?). You seek them out for the specialized services, they perform that service to SPEC and move-on. You don't need to convince them to perform that role, they don't need to be coaxed into acting on your requests. They are PAID to service and they do.

There are Techni-HOs in nearly all specialties available in all areas, making them highly portable. While finding staff to fulfill these rolls in far flung areas is a very expensive proposition. The Techni-John can have a HO in every port, who they wine and dine only when in town (some nylons and chocolate for every port). If there is not Techni-HO in the port we pay a small premium to ship one there short term. There is no expensive upkeep for when not in use and ultimately it is cheaper than having staff in every port.

If we find that we can't support the Techni-HO any more in the area then we just don;t sign them back up for a contract. No painful separation, no legal issues, simple sweet, expendable. And easy enough if we wish to re-engage, they are typically ready and able. Grateful for the new work. A full time resource would not be so kindly if benched for significant 

Culpability is one of the most highly overlooked of these values. A well thinking manager who brings in contractors is ultimately in a no-lose situation if played right. If the contractor are successful then the manager who brings in the Techni-HOs can take credit for seeing the solution and implementing the solution. If the Techni-HO is not effective in resolving a situation, then the manager has the solution of getting rid of the problem (in this case the contractor) and therefore can still be credited for solving the problem. If we used internal resources we could not treat them this way without significant backlash.

Techni-HOs fill a very important need in the technical world that we cannot always look to our home grown talent to supply. So don't dismiss the use of Techni-hos it is beneficial to you and your team that you have this valuable asset available in your bag of dirty tricks.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

You TOO, can be a Techni-HO


We embark on the Techni-HO journey for many reasons:

  • Downsized
  • Desire for independence
  • Desire to go broke
  • Hubris
  • Ego
  • Fired for inability to conform to authority
  • We don't fit in anywhere else
Couple this with a belief that what we have to offer is of value and we are on our way. My personal journey into Technical Consultancy was perhaps destiny or purely accidental. I am an engineer of low-regard who barely scraped my way through engineering school in 7 years (without a Masters or PhD). During my senior year I took a job with a technical training company as an engineering Co-Op student. The attainment of this job taught me the first of many lessons that I plan to impart to any viewers of this blog (once we get enough traffic, clicks and impressions).
Lesson 1: There is value in being a Bad Engineer (or insert your profession here)
As a poor engineer I had lots to offer to my prospective clients:

  • I learn slow (so I have to ask lots of questions)
  • I am accustomed to failing (a needed skill for consultants people who succeed often never adapt to the idea that their ideas might flop and are often afraid to suggest things)
  • I have the ability to overlook seemingly important details (a skill that all successful consultants must have).
In the realm of technical training, where I got my start into consulting, one learns quickly that you don't need to be very smart to be a highly successful trainer. No on the contrary we learned that in order to be good we only had to know more about the defined training topic than the students. Now we find that good engineers (or technicians) tend to have broad working knowledge of the systems in which they operate. Which can be very threatening to the consultant, but have no fear. Because you will be able to dazzle them with your brilliance in ONE or TWO areas of discussion. Which fortunately, is why they hired your or signed up for your class, or contracted your firm.

The take-away
The consultant Must be singular of focus, they must be willing to put aside other performance attributes for the SINGLE thing the customer asks (pays) for. Good engineers, or technicians, under the employ of the customer might accidentally see the shortcoming of a decided course of action as detrimental to the larger organization. But a consultant (being unburdened by this knowledge or moral compass) will determinedly pursue defined objective even if the long term benefit might not be there. After all that is what we hire them for. Short term gains. That after all is why we hired the techni-HO and that is what we can get from them. 
So, don't be afraid to take the leap (or perhaps the decision to go independent was not yours). After all, in the valley of the Blind the one-eyed man is King, and you my friends could very well be the just the one-eyed techni-HO that those blind Techni-johns are looking for.

(props to Eddie Murphy and SNL for the "Velvet Jones" line I am appropriating for my own use)

Techni-HO?

A "techni-HO" is a "technical whore". Why do we call it "techni-HO"? I hope you are here because you are some sort of technical professional--i.e. engineer, accountant, designer, programmer, etc--and you are thinking of going out on your own to be a consultant. I also assume that you wish to charge for your technical services. Ergo, you are a techni-ho; technical-sluts give it away.