It’s hard to believe that I’ve been consulting and leading professional services teams for over 10 years now. While I’ve lost some sleep, lost some hair, and gained a few pounds the journey has been (and is) always different and challenging. I believe in transparency, gratitude, and kindness. I also believe that each and every hardworking employee should have the opportunity to have a satisfying career that “pays the bills,” and allows for a family vacation and high quality of life. With that in mind, there are a few points that may pique your interest (or at least help you better understand our world).
- Hourly rates aren’t everything! It’s tempting to look at an engineer’s time at an average “rack rate” and ascertain a relative value for the services work. It may be equally shocking to see rates much higher than you were expecting in the hundreds of dollars per hour. The “catch” with hourly rates is that they don’t tell the whole story. They don’t take into account the quality of the job, your overall experience, the stability of the organization, the quality of the “back office”, and our basic “cost of doing business”. My suggestion is to generally look beyond the hourly rates – in the end, you want an outcome for your organization. Focus on that – what does the big picture look like? Does your solution function as you expected? Was it delivered in less time than you expected? How does your solution provider handle obstacles? Does your solution provider compensate their consultants to care? Are you working with an engineer that really knows what their talking about and has done it before or is starting with Google or page 1 of the manual? All of this matters! Again, focus on an outcome, not the minutia. Also, after items such as training, liability insurance, overall operating expenses, etc. I can pretty much promise you that consultant organizations don’t net the dollars you might think based on their published rates!
- High-quality engineers love to please you. It’s in the “firmware” of a “real” engineer to try to do everything they can to please you and make your project a success. It can be easy to “armchair quarterback” an engineer, (hindsight is 20/20, right?) but know that a real engineer is a problem solver, a do-er, and at the end of the day is uniquely satisfied and proud of a job well done. You can see this in how engineers nearly salivate over tidy cabling, will get lost in establishing proper naming conventions, and generally respond to calls for help even when they aren’t “on-call”. Most engineers, especially the ones we have at WTG, are problem solvers and people pleasers who really care about the company’s brand and their own personal brand. Those are the people you want working in your environment!
- The job of a professional services engineer and consultant isn’t easy! Consultants constantly must stay informed and updated on a variety of “know-knowns”, and “known-unknowns”, and worry about the “unknown-unknows” in addition to consistent OEM training. Great Professional Service Engineers (PSEs) and consultants don’t just take tests to pass the exam – they study, have practical experience, and can pass tests because they know the material – not because they downloaded a dump. In addition to constantly changing information on the “front end,” each environment is really a snowflake. It’s the job of an engineer to consider a problem or challenge, work within constraints and situational items, and deliver a working solution. Those critical thinking skills make an engineer different from a role that just follows a basic script.
- “Teamwork makes the dreamwork”: Organizations that have a pool of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to discuss ideas and concepts with, really make this work. Solutions are so complex these days with multilayered technologies (Server+Storage+Network+Virtualization+Cloud+Data Protection+Security) – it really takes a team of people to solve these complex challenges. It also takes project managers and schedulers/dispatchers to keep everyone focused, on-task, and moving forward. Project Managers often never get the credit they deserve, they are an important part of the delivery team as well!
- Expectations management is critical to mutual success. Most often, the “satisfaction” issues I run into (both customer, consultancy, and engineer/employee) are related to unmet expectations. Perhaps a customer thought data migration was included but not scoped in the original SOW. Perhaps an engineer thought that the rack space and power were right, but onsite it was not. Perhaps our practice thought that a project would complete sooner than we expected. What resolves this is honest, clear, and transparent communication. That communication is important upfront, during, and after a solution is implemented. When we establish clear communication channels, have a solid well-defined (agreed-upon) scope or work, and realistic (agreed-upon) timelines, magic can and will happen!
In closing there’s another slightly more obscure tip: perform your own due diligence on consultant firms before you select one, to ensure their goals align with yours. Try to identify behavior such as corner-cutting, pushing their staff beyond reasonable utilization rates, and other overall “cost-cutting” measures which may degrade the quality of service to you. I personally feel fortunate that WTG values customer satisfaction as our primary measure of success – at WTG our primary focus is you, our customers. We’ve been here, are here, will be here, and look forward to serving you! A huge “THANK YOU” to my team and a sincere “nod of appreciation” to all those engineers, project managers, consultants, and practice leads that make a difference to their clients!