5 Lessons Learned From Seven Months of Independent IT Consulting

  1. Whenever possible charge for results not your time.

  2. Base your rate on the value you will be providing your client. The bigger the problem the bigger the fees. If you can make the pain go away they will gladly pay you.

  3. It will take far longer than you think to begin generating a decent income. Figure a minimum one year probably closer to two. Plan accordingly and don't give up.

  4. Remember you are low on a very long list of worries your client has. Don't take it personally. Continue to be friendly and responsive even if you don't get the same courtesy in return.

  5. Provide a report or have a conversation with your client before submitting an invoice. Make sure they know the value you have provided and are prepared to pay.

The Power of Realtime Feedback

Watch this video. It's an hour long but worth every minute:

This is an absolutely brilliant demonstration of the power of realtime feedback during the creative process.

In the early 90's I was a photojournalism major in college. This was before digital cameras were a thing. We shot maybe 70 images total, threw the canisters in a bag and days (sometimes weeks) later would process the film and finally see the results. This delay between capturing and seeing the images made it hard to connect action with outcome. If a certain image turned out well often I wouldn't remember exactly what I had one differently to produce the shot. The creative feedback loop was slow, long and disjointed.

Then digital hit and the world changed. Suddenly you could take hundreds of pictures at no additional cost. You could immediately view the results and adjust exposure, lighting, etc. on the fly. The creative feedback loop contracted to seconds which in turn dramatically sped up the process of becoming a better photographer.

There are a lot of things I suck at. Coding is definitely one. Imagine if Bret Victor's approach was the rule rather than the exception. How much faster could a hack like me improve? How much more productive would it make someone who already knows what they are doing?

 

Email is Not Your Friend

Man I am so guilty of this. The siren song of sending an email to a prospective client then kicking back & congratulating yourself on a job well done is very strong. The truth is people buy from other people. You have to get up close and personal and make things happen. It isn't easy. It's not always fun. But it's absolutely critical to the survival of your business.

My message to today’s sales people? Those who are listening but failing because of your dependency on email. Pay attention. I had a mentor once tell me, and he was right, EMAIL IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. Pick up the phone. Call outside of normal hours – not when you know you will get voicemail. Send a hand-written letter. Network hard. Walk into the office and sit for hours until someone will see you. Hunt people down at shows. Do not give up after one attempt, after 3 attempts or even 5. It can take 10 or 15 consecutive attempts over a short period of time for someone to turn around and say “ok, what do you want to say to me?!?” Develop a shark’s mentality and a thrill for the hunt. Those skills will pay off for the rest of your career.

A Manager’s FAQ

Chock full of good advice...

"Performance Improvement Plans are popular because managers want the employee to agree they deserve to be fired. PIPs are cruel. If an employee is unable to succeed in a supportive environment, he will not succeed in a hostile one. You are setting him up for failure. If you are doing it to build a case for firing, you are especially unkind."

 

My PM Recommended Reading List

Over the years I've read quite a few books on project management. As with any complex topic some of those books were excellent and some were terrible. The terrible ones, without exception, were focused on the theoretical aspects of project management not the messy reality. They ignore the human element and focus entirely on process and structure. This is a mistake. You cannot separate people from process. You must have a solid understanding of psychology, economics and politics in order to be successful. Period. Full stop. You can't gantt chart your way around stakeholders.

With this in mind I recommend the following reading list. Each one is written well and provides valuable insight into the science and black art that is project management. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these books. If you know of any others which should be added to the list please add a comment below.

9 Lessons Learned from 15 Years of IT Project Management

1. No one except PMs care how something gets done as long as it does.
Don't try to make people change to accommodate whatever complex, overly sophisticated PM process you think makes the most sense. You'll just piss them and they won't do it. It sucks but email / IM / face-to-face is what works. 

2. Choices, choices, choices...
Always give people options. Just make damn sure they all are choices you are OK with.

3. Respect the Zone.
When you bug developers always politely ask for the to give you a moment when they reach a good break point. It can take up to 20 minutes for a developer to get into the zone. Interrupting this process kills their productivity and makes you look like a jerk.

4. Under-promise and over-deliver.
Within reason. Just don't sandbag people.  

5. Estimating is a black art.
Take estimates that don't include ranges or confidence levels with a very large grain of salt. 

6. Give credit where credit is due.
You'd be surprised how many organizations are bad at recognizing good work. A heartfelt public thanks can be worth a lot to your team.

7. Don't panic.
Especially in front of your team. Ever. Do your best to shield them from the insanity above and below you. They will recognize and appreciate the effort.

8. Never take it personally. 
No matter how much it seems it isn't about you. Remember most people want to help but are busy fighting their own battles. Analyze the situation dispassionately and weigh your options carefully.

9. Without trust and at least some goodwill your project will fail.
Once earned work as hard as possible to preserve both.