Don’t understand it? Don’t Outsource it!

While it would be easy to just talk about the jobs that get sent overseas, this is also true of letting consultants do something for your company. The term outsource has developed quite the negative cog-notation simply because in some instances, it talks about someone losing their job… in reality the term applies to any time someone is giving work to a third party. When I had to cut the grass at my old place, I ended up “outsourcing” the work… I did it because my Sundays were a lot more fun when I got to go on long bike rides rather than spending them cutting grass.

Companies constantly give work to third parties. Overall it is a great practice for business when it comes to specialized work. In the document imaging world, the most costly part of a project is not even the high speed scanners that can make a project seem unreachable because of cost, its actually the manual labor. Prepping document and capturing the correct metadata from them is very costly and it requires a very specialized workforce. When was the last time you removed a staple from a document… now multiply the time it took you by thousands.

The problem that I have encountered over and over in business is that people tend to also want to outsource things that they don’t understand. It sounds awesome at first… well the company has great expertise in X area, so lets hire them to do the work. It is even worse when the company decides to fire their employees and give the work to another company that promises to do it quicker and for less money than their workforce used to do it.

One of the things I have seen over and over is that the people making the product or simply delivering it can have a great impact on the success or failure of it. Consulting companies often bring their smartest people to the smoke and mirrors show with no intention of using those resources to actually deliver what the company is buying.

Very often it is too late when you realized that you have hired the wrong people to do something for you; but the only way to prevent that is to actually understand what you are outsourcing first.

You might think that building a website is a very simple thing to do in today’s technology driven world. It is actually an extremely complex task. Some companies can do wonders when it comes to the presentation layer and give you something visually stunning… some others can give you functionality others can’t touch. The problem is that I have not seen too many that can do it all. That does not even touch on content and even social media. Those are all moving parts that need to be understood before you contract anyone to do a “website” for you.

Having someone in your company that fully understand what you are trying to outsource is imperative. If you don’t, then you should think about hiring someone that does. Also don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you know something about the process you are outsourcing, that you understand it completely. That was another pitfall I saw many people just walk into.

In the end, I know how my grass is supposed to look when it is cut. The dude that used to cut it always left it a little too low, but it worked out well since I could sometimes skip one weekend depending on rain. It did end up browning some areas once in a while… but hey it was only grass.

What am I Worth?

Twice during my work history I have taken a pay cut under the promise of a better career path, and it was a bad move in both cases. I would also like to mention that the time I took a job for an unreal amount of money in the consulting world, it was also a big mistake. After the company made tons of money off my fixing their mess, they found me too expensive. So I guess that was a wrong move as well… it was sweet for 6 months though.

Before I start talking about money I want to say that I am extremely happy with my current position even though it is not anywhere near the highest that I have been paid. Finding a job where you are doing something you enjoy doing will make your day feel better. Do not buy into the idea that you are not supposed to like your job, the moment you do that, you are compromising your well being and that of the people around you. Does everyone love their job? probably not, but you at least have to like some aspect of what you do because you will end up doing that for a huge percentage of your life. Always keep that in mind.

Now that the economy is turning around and more doors are going to start opening it is the time to be very careful about taking a job. As tempting as it is for someone that has been out of a job for a while to take the first thing that comes along (well and some people don’t have the luxury to say no) if you are in any position to keep looking and say no do so.

It is very hard to climb back out of a low salary. Every company you interview with will ask and check your salary history and make a decision about your pay based on that number. No matter how much you explain that you are worth a lot more, the reality of the situation is that you are probably worth more to the new company you are going to, but not significantly more.

While there are always exceptions when you are taking on more responsibility and such, in the end the company will try to get you as cheap as they can. At least in my experience you can get back up quickly if the company will give you a salary bump after a trial period, but always make sure you get anything like that in writing. And not just electronically, have it be part of your offer letter.

Never be afraid to ask during the interview about the companies compensation policy. Make sure you understand if the offer includes benefits on the final amount, and calculate what your actual take home will be. Some companies figure your benefits into the offer… and at the same time some benefit packages can be worth about 10K. Do they give cost of living adjustments every year? or are raises far and few between. This information is crucial to your negotiation period. Also be very aware of how they measure performance. Many companies do not have clear guidelines and your reviews, which most pay increases are based on, end up being very subjective and sometimes even unattainable. I still chuckle at the company that measured my personal appearance when I hardly ever saw any clients. Thankfully I love wearing a suit and tie and got an easy top mark on that one.

The first step in the negotiation is knowing how much you are worth. Research the title that you are shooting for and look for salaries around the area. If the company is offering you significantly less than what you are worth, pass on the offer. You are entitled to counter offer just like when you are buying a house. Once you figure out what you are worth strive for it. Climbing out of a low salary can take a long time.

Advanced Management

I recently completed a court as part of the curriculum the company has for managers. I was very skeptical at first because I have not learned much about actually managing people or time with previous courses and or books. Most concepts are great on paper or being presented, but putting the into practice is a totally different story. I was amazed when in preparation for the course I had to take two very different tests that measure aspects of how I manage people and how I resolve conflict.

These were not very simple tests either, they combined personality tracking with all kind of observation and conflict resolution skills. I was surprised about many of the things the tests scores revealed because I thought I had a good handle on my self evaluation when it came to managing styles, but I will discuss those in detail some other time. What I want to discuss today is how excellent was not just the course but the instructor.

I have always admired people that can stand in front of a room and command attention. I believe that being a teacher is one of the most undervalued professions in our society. The ratio of pay for teachers is just dismal for the value of the job that they perform in our communities. I always have it in the back of my head that someday I want to be a teacher or instructor of some type. I have enjoyed every single opportunity I have had to do public speaking or even just corporate or technical training I delivered.

The instructor was not just a good public speaker, she was also the course designer. I had never thought about how much work goes into putting together a good seminar, but little by little I saw she wasted no time trying to use the time to fill us up with not just information but tools we could actually use. This one was specially challenging when it came to time because as managers time is scarce. It was great that most of the busy work, like doing the surveys, was done before we even arrived at the class.

The topics covered ranged from conflict resolution to actual interviewing skills. The amount of information that we received in a very short period of time was amazing, and I am happy to report that I have retained most of it if not all. I wish some of the people that I had interviewed with in the past had attended this course.

The way that she was able to reveal only very little about herself, while at the same time sharing life experiences was amazing. Even more amazing was that she is a complete introvert, yet able to talk for long periods at a time keeping people interested that had blackberries making noises the while time.

I am sure everyone that uses the net is tired of personality tests, but the instructor actually believed on them. She encouraged us to use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator along with the other tools to help teams work together. She also believed that people should be aware of other people’s personality types because it would help greatly with their interaction.

She also addressed the question of leadership and if it is innate or taught. While she did not give a conclusion, she did make it more clear that some people are simply not cut out for it. While vision is a great thing, being able to connect with people and share that vision is sometimes more important.

I am not sure if I will eventually be a corporate trainer or even become a teacher. If I do, I would like to be able to be as good with a subject as she was.

The Orangutan Architect

One of my most successful articles was the IT Animal Kingdom piece I wrote a couple of years ago. It was picked up by both BlogCritics and Internet Duct Tape. I wrote the article based on many of my past experiences in the IT world and even though I made fun of the Orangutan Architect, I am starting to understand him that character a little more.

In that article I defined this animal as the ones that…

create the most complex systems for simple solutions. If you have ever had a conversation with someone that talks in circles, never getting to a point, you might have encountered an Orangutan. Like their conversational skills their code is extremely hard to follow and it resembles a bowl of spaghetti. Somehow they are also backed by the predators, I believe because of their uncanny capability to confuse.

If you had to study its DNA, it would have come from two of the great software architects I have worked with in the past. The tone of the article only captured the funny and satirical side of what an architect is, however it did not talk about their brilliance when it came to being able to see systems as a fully integrated machine where they were aware of the skeleton and many other pieces inside of it. Now that I have 10+ years of experience in the world of IT I find myself becoming more and more like they were.

When talking about software development there are many schools of thinking. Some of them are almost like religions and you can encounter people that blindly follow a methodology even it if leads them into dead ends. One of the most dangerous is how configurable and flexible a software has to be. Most architects that I have met love making something so generic that we can use it for any widget. I still think this is the wrong approach for most solutionas and adhere myself to the mentality that it has to solve the problem first and then become generic, not build something generic that also solves the problem. Neither approach is wrong all together; finding the happy medium is what good designers ultimately have to do. It also varies greatly between internal IT shops and people that write software to be packaged. The closer the IT shop is to supporting the software and have ownership of it, the less generic you the software tends to be.

Now we get to the part where I am becoming more like the orangutan, and it has some to do with time management. Every architect I have met does not have time to explain details to others and they want to be trusted fully by everyone in the team. I personally lean more towards the business analysis side where I want to be close to the problem that is at hand and providing the right solution. Some of it can be attributed to the many small environments that I have worked inside where I saw my user all the time. That made me a better analyst, but it also tends to make me more reactive. The right thing to do is to compromise between talking and doing, and I have slowly come to realize that if you talk too much, meet too much, plan too much, you end up not doing a lot.

Navigating the sea of users trying to please them as well as the decision makers is quite a task. I have learned from the architects that being good at it is not just about being able to describe the big picture, but at the same time understand all the details that make it up. That skill develops being involved in various projects and being able to see things coming that others never expect. It is great to know methodologies and know how structures get built on top of solid frameworks, but the architect should plan for the pitfalls that others don’t see. It is not a perfect science, but it is something good architects do well.

After writing the article two years ago I thought about what it really meant. In some ways I was trying to see what traits I did not want fall pray of as my career started to get to the next level. Business Analysis and Software Architecture are both things that I have been doing for some years now, but it is recently that I feel confident that I can play in both of those realms with some authority. The key to all of it is not only experience, but realizing that you truly need a full zoo to really run a successful IT shop.

Teamwork

Not too long ago I saw a TV show about video games. It highlighted that new multi player games that allow a user to be part of a team with specific tasks helps build the teamwork mentality.

I started to think of my corporate world experience and the more and more I thought about my past experiences the more I saw that teamwork is often talked about but seldom really implemented.

We live in a very individualistic society, and no matter how much corporate America tries to sell us the idea that there is no “I in teamwork” we still don’t get what that really means.

At the first opportunity people try to make themselves look better, or when there is blame to be passed around the finger pointing begins. There is the exception of the person that for some reason likes to take the fall, but because of their strong character they get a get out of jail free card every single time.

I think the breeding ground for teamwork is sports, but this country has diverted from actual keeping score for kids to everyone is a winner. I think this further enhances the notion on every kid that they are the best and they have to fend for themselves.

Life can be cruel at times, as can work environments, but a good team behind you is what gets you through. In life it is your family and friends when they selflessly rally around you when you need them. In the corporate world when something goes wrong and the team does the best it can to make the project work.

Maybe multi player video games will help people understand that every role in a team is important and it is ok to just be good at one thing. Maybe sports at the little kids level will start keeping score again; Because in a society of only winners, everyone ends up being a loser.

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