What do CFO’s Want?

CFO’s and business owners want feedback from their programmers, which is tough when often times the better programmers have spent their lives incubating skills that borrow from their ability to return phone calls.  And costs for a web site are all over the place; from several hundred dollars for a simple revision to a hundreds of thousands of dollars for a site with vast databases, and volumes of functionality. So – when a project depends on a high level of accountability and communication, and all of them do, clients just want to know what is really happening behind the veil of code.

All consultants’ fees are based on a daily billing rate, which reflects the value they place on one day’s labor plus expected overhead expenses. These rates appear in fixed fees, monthly retainers, hourly billing or even by measuring a company’s performance.  Either way, those fees must be justified with the quality of their work combined with effective communication and reporting.

The savior of the coding hero is to maintain good internal systems and to enjoy the ability to recognize weakness and to compensate for it by surrounding one’s self with colleagues of varying skills and personalities.  This wisdom steers a client away from hiring one-man shops where “man-down” doesn’t mean the death of a project.  Consistency comes when redundancies are as present as the front-line programmer.

At Whiteboard, we make a habit of communicating internally through continual education, participation in the open source community and a diligent internal peer review process.  In doing so we encourage our staff to pay attention to the details.  It also keeps us talking, keeping all parties informed.  Upon request, our clients receive online access to reports that monitor the progress of each project, including time sheets.

We have cleaned up many messes created by one-man shops or companies who care little for the details.  And while we are grateful for the opportunity to do so, we feel your pain and look forward to providing relief.


Getting the most out of your consultant

Tips for getting value from consultantsHiring one or many consultants for a large block of hours is an expensive proposition. It is important to have a plan in place in order to make sure that you are getting the desired value out of the resource. With a team in place, these concerns are multiplied. One of the biggest leaks we experience in onsite consulting is in the planning department.

The devil is in the details. It’s extremely important to have all of the logins to all of the resources prepared well prior to the consultant arriving onsite. On several occasions we’ve arrived ready to work only to find that we don’t have accounts to join the domain, access the wiki, source control, file share, or any way to get into the issue management software. In a typical organization there are quite a few logins that would be required for a programmer to access. Rarely is the domain account the only thing the programmer would need. Note, the consultant should make you very aware of all the things they are missing as soon as they get onsite and remind you of them if they are not retrieved. A good consultant knows that their time is valuable and is concerned when they are not able to produce due to some barrier. These barriers should be removed as quickly and efficiently as possible when they are presented.

A consultant should always have direction on more than one task. Tasks, by their nature, are completed. A good developer will constantly move on to the next one. If no additional tasks are provided and there is no contact available to provide another one then time and money will be exhausted. A good consultant will make an assumption and do something useful until direction can be given but ultimately efforts will be expended on items that are not the highest priority for the client.  Even on large tasks the programmer may encounter a roadblock or a question that needs to be answered, so it’s always best to have something else lined up in that event.

Communication is one of the biggest leaks in any company. However, we all recognize that it is a very important thing. Large conference calls or redundant meetings can increase the total timeline and bloat the budget needed to accomplish a project. Whomever is acting as the project manager should be instructed to think of calls and meetings in terms of money instead of time. Add up the hourly rate of all the resources that you believe need to attend and then multiple that times the time scheduled for the meeting. Thinking in these terms will ensure that only those consulting resources who add enough value will be added to the invite and otherwise be free to make progress on their tasks. Scheduling a meeting for 15 minutes instead of thirty, or thirty minutes instead of an hour, can make a big difference in the bottom line. It’s important to stick to the agenda and if the call has more than 5 people then it should be high-level and roadblocks only. It’s the project managers responsibility to direct attention back to the agenda items when resources dip below 30 thousand feet.

Read more in the second part in our series regarding Consultant billing and the things you need to know.

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