Thursday, December 24, 2009

How do you measure productivity in Lotus consulting work?

IMHO John Cook's blog about why programmers are not paid in proportion to their productivity sums up the major problem in the IT consulting industry. The problem (restated) is that IT consumers have no easy way of determining the productivity of their incumbent Business Partner. Here's an example:

Last month I was called into a customer site to help fix their Domino cluster. Their previous Business Partner (who had also been providing PC support services plus new hardware plus anything else they could sell the customer) had been unsuccessful in setting up the Domino cluster and that had been the last straw for the client who showed them the door and then set about getting new service providers for Notes and networking and everything else. I was one of the Partners recommended to him by a Big Blue friend and so I got the Notes work.

Now reinstalling a Domino server and setting up a Domino cluster isn't rocket science. I'm sure 90% of the readers of this blog could have done the same job without any fuss, but this job was clearly beyond the skill set of their previous supplier. So why do customers continue to pay good money to incompetent Business Partners?

My guess is that customers have no easy metric to measure IT tasks. You can tell a Postal workers that s/he must deliver xxx letters per day or a brickie that they must lay yyy bricks per day but how do you measure the productivity of IT workers? In old-style programming you could ask for zzz lines of code per day, but how do you create a similar metric in XPage web components or in system admin work?

I believe the trend towards System Integration has accelerated this problem. A traditional Lotus Partner takes pride in their product and their skill set and associated Lotus certifications, and has no problem in declaring comparative ignorance in (say) Windows networking issues. They would rather stick to their knitting and are happy to see other IT work go to other specialist IT providers. On the other hand the non-specialist 'System Integrator' has no clear boundaries on what they will sell to a customer and has the temptation to work towards grabbing the customers entire IT budget and then finding a way of providing lower cost services (while still charging at the original skilled rate) in order to maximize their profit. If Lotus consulting services aren't making a profit then they might consider reskilling their people in Sharepoint and getting their technicians to multitask with Lotus and Sharepoint consulting work. If the volume of Sharepoint work is increasing then maybe forget about doing Lotus work entirely (but keep demanding the right to sell annual Lotus license subscriptions to existing customers).

The problem is that (apart from failing their certification exams) there is no obvious bottom line for a consultant when maintaining their technical skills in Lotus software. The atrophying of their Lotus skills happens one day at a time and their customers don't notice that they are receiving a sub-standard consulting product because they have no external 'nnn-bricks-per-day' IT standard with which to measure their supplier.

I've blogged on this topic before, but this time I'm asking a question:

How do you show your own value-added technical superiority in Lotus software to a customer when the customers doesn't have sufficient Lotus technical skills to see through the smoke-and-mirrors they are being fed by their current incompetent incumbent?

Or, in John Cook's terms, how do you demonstrate that your productivity with Lotus software far exceeds that of your competition?


Gavin Bollard said...

This isn't the answer you need but we have a developer here who is "slow" in terms of a "number of lines of code per day". I'm constantly stunned by how long it takes him to do a job that I could do in minutes...


I have nothing but respect for the guy. His work, unlike mine, is "perfect". My code tends to execute correctly on the first try, (unless you deliberately try to break it). His runs properly on about the hundredth - but he tests every possibility and he accepts nothing short of perfection in himself and his work.

Most of all, the reason why I sing his praises so highly is that he takes whatever challenges we provide him with and finds the most elegant solution - even if it means that he has to learn an entirely new skill.

Whenever we're doing work on the web, I'll say. "Hang on", lets see how Google does it, how Facebook does it, etc. We're watching the market leaders and we're not accepting Domino as a "limitation". If it can be done on the web. Domino can do it.

It really irritates me when developers talk about limitations in Domino. I haven't found the system limiting. It's not a system problem, it just means that you need to broaden your horizons.

Do you want to impress a client? Take one of their smaller, simpler apps and build a fantastic new interface onto it.

Show them that their applications and data can be dragged into 2010 technology without their needing to change anything (except get off 6.5 and go to 8.5 - no excuses there). If you can engage them on something familiar, they'll be keen to let you try something new.

John said...

Thanks for linking to my post.

I suppose one way to differentiate yourself from your competition is to take responsibility at a larger scope. Hire us and we'll take care of it all, no excuses.

I'm thinking of the IBM commercial with the message that if you hire them, all the responsible parties are in one room and no one can point fingers at each other.

ryan said...

Interesting… I might try some of this on my blog, too. It’s quite interesting how you sometimes stop being innovative and just go for an accepted solution without actually trying to improve it… you make a couple of good points.

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mathew said...

Very nice.......I'm sure it will help many people.....

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david said...

This is fascinating.

I’d been taught that left-aligned labels are preferred, to support the prototypical F-shaped eye-tracking heatmap of web browsing. The idea is that it supports easy vertical scanning.
But this study revealed this to be incorrect!

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