Friday, September 08, 2006

What Should Designers Know?

I recently received a letter from Catherine (cat) Morley, Design & Development Director of Katz-i International Web & Graphic Design,

She's also Project Manager at Creative Latitude. a worldwide community that unites various creative disciplines for collective promotion, education and ethical business practice, as well as Project Manager for the NO!SPEC crusade,

She was responding to posts on my writing blog, but I think my response ought to go here on my consulting blog, given that all designers are, in fact, consultants. She wrote:

Cat: No, I am not a writer, but I do have your book 'Weinberg on Writing' and will be using it in the near future. I love it and have suggested all my design friends who are serious about writing to buy a copy.

Jerry: Just so you know, I am not a writer, either. Well, I am a writer, but I was a designer (of computer systems) first, and my first books and many other have been on the subject of design.

Cat: Short explanation - I'm creating a series for designers called 'working with' (writers, programmers, photographers, marketers, printers, etc). Target market - those new to the business of design. Reason - to help those coming into the business of design avoid the costly mistakes of seasoned designers. Additional benefits - clients will (hopefully) avoid being on the receiving end of those very same costly mistakes. ... Which brings me to you ... we are interviewing the industries designers deal with in business. Two wee questions ...

Question 1: As a professional writer, what are the main points that you'd expect / want designers to know before contacting you about a project?

Jerry: I am both a designer and a writer, so I have high expectations of designers. Just last month, I worked with a young designer, Brandon Swann, on the cover design for my new novel, "The Aremac Project" (you can see his design on my website home page now). I expected him to know how to listen to my requirements and ideas, then take his own initiative to present me with at least three sketches of possible solutions to the design problem. I expected him to know something about the purposes of book covers in general--what they were supposed to accomplish--and to balance his creative urges with my needs as a client. I expected him to be prepared to go back and forth with me and my publisher as we refined the design, and to complete his assignments as agreed.

Brandon, by the way, did all of these things and produced a striking and effective cover.

Question 2: When working with designers, what do you see are the top
>problem areas?

Number one: Ego. A designer needs to have a rather large ego, but needs to keep it under control in service of her client. Many do not do this well. (My book, Becoming a Technical Leader, deals with this problem, as does my book (with my wife) General Principles of System Design.)

Number two: Maybe related to number one: Inability to listen and really hear. (My book on feedback (with Charlie and Edie Seashore) What Did You Say?: The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback deals with this problem.)

Number three: Inability to surface assumptions (his or the client's) and to do the work to clarify them. (My two books with Don Gause, Are Your Lights On?: How to Know What the Problem Really Is and "Exploring Requirements: Quality before Design, deal with this problem.)

And, of course, many designers are simply poor communicators, either in writing or face-to-face, and my writing book and my consulting books deal with this problem.

That's not all, but that's enough.

Visit Cat's designer blog. You'll be glad you did.

If It's Okay To Want Anything, But Not To Expect It

There's a humorous letter by Mike Morgan, If Architects Had To Work Like Programmers, that relates to today's topic of how designers/consultants work with their clients. One of the things a designer has to know is how to keep cool and handle potential clients like the one who wrote this letter.

In the article, the client keeps adding and changing vague requirements, so the architect will have to have the qualities listed above which would allow him to deal with them. If not, he will be trapped by his ego when he could just walk away. He won't hear the underlying message—that this client needs to be kept in check and reminded that each of these conversations will cost money.

And, particularly, he will be unable to see or surface the dozens of assumptions that pepper this outrageous letter. Of course, the first thing he will have to do—if he deals with this client at all—is to get face-to-face and start a feedback session to educate this client about the costs and chances of success in doing business this way. This client has to know that it's okay to want anything, but it's quite a different matter to expect anything—and, certainly, to expect everything, and for free at that.

As an exercise for all consultants, I recommend you read this fictitious but essentially true letter and note how you would deal with each of the issues it raises. It could save you a fortune in the near future.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Predictions About Predictions

People are always asking consultants to make predictions. Would you be wise to accommodate them?

People especially crave predictions about their financial future. Which stocks will grow? Which dot.coms will fold? What jobs will be best? What should they study to prepare for their future jobs? What books will sell?

Predictions are difficult. Well, no, predictions are actually easy - unless you want some accuracy. Since I'd feel responsible if I hurt somebody with a poor prediction, I seldom accept their invitation to predict.

Predictions About the Success of Books

Let me give some examples, starting with some predictions that, had I listened to them, would have seriously hurt my career as a writer, which in turn would have hurt my career as a consultant. I have published about 40 successful books, yet I still don't understand how publishers make predictions. One of the most successful of my books has been The Psychology of Computer Programming, which was delayed more than a year by a series of publishers who couldn't decide what to do with it.

I first sent it to the company that had published all my previous books without hesitation. Here's what they said: "It just is not worthwhile pushing this project any further. It may be that the concept is good ... but the style and breadth of presentation is just not suitable. It could be that a major overhaul and rewrite will result in a marketable project. On the other hand, it may be wiser to forget the book concept entirely..."

The book was not overhauled, nor rewritten, but it was turned down by another publisher before it finally found a home. It's now been in print for more than 30 years, and has sold over 100,000 copies in English, and many more in other languages. For the company that eventually published it, Psychology sold more copies and made more money than the next five books in their line. In retrospect, the two publishers who declined the project proved not to have much predictive power.

My next highly successful book is An Introduction to General Systems Thinking. Naturally, I sent this manuscript first to the perceptive publishers of Psychology. Here's what they said: "Our referee believes that the market for such a volume is limited. With this in mind, I do not believe it is for us." This one has been in print now for over 25 years, and has also sold more than 100,000 copies.

The same pattern now holds for my third most successful book, The Secrets of Consulting, and the fourth, Are Your Lights On? - how to know what the problem really is, and the fifth, What Did You Say? - the art of giving and receiving feedback. And none of my less successful books, so far, have ever been turned down by publishers!

Experiences such as these have brought me to the reluctant conclusion that publishers know a lot about predicting the future success of a book - but what they know is exactly backwards. Or at least for new and different subjects. Shakespeare goes in and out of fashion, but even at low ebb sells pretty consistently. Algebra books compete with one another in a comfortable, steady market, as do introductory books in such subjects as economics, physics, philosophy. Books in such areas are more predictable, but, then, they're less likely to make a big splash.

In computing, it's not so steady, and predictions are even harder than with books. For publishers of computing books, the subject of tomorrow's best-seller is unknown to today's editor. Editors don't follow the field; they follow the publications in the field. Unless and until somebody else publishes a book on the subject, the editor doesn't consider it a subject at all. Those blinders are evident in the subjects of those books of mine that became the best sellers. Before The Psychology of Computer Programming appeared, the psychology of computer programming was not a subject.

Predictions about Computers

Magazine and newspaper publishers have an easier time than book publishers in a fast-moving field, because their publications generally get trashed before they become obsolete. Who reads last year's magazines to learn about the future of the job market?

But some of my friends do keep old copies of magazines, and I keep them if they contain an article of mine, so some evidence of successful or unsuccessful predictions remains for us to study. One of my friends sent me this prediction from Popular Science, May 1967, page 93:

"Timesharing, most experts agree, is the key to the computer's future, at least for general use. A few years ago, when people thought about household computing at all, they thought of some small, inexpensive, individual unit that would keep track of the family checking account and automatically type out the Christmas card labels. Now we know it won't be like that at all.

"The reason is economic. The bigger and faster the computer, the cheaper it makes each computation. Consequently, it will be far cheaper to build one monster computer with thousands of customers hooked to it than to have small, individual machines in individual homes."

Here's another prediction taken from the September, 1962 Datamation, which I happen to have because I had an article in it. (The article incidentally, was about how to make fake demonstrations, and that seems to be something we're still doing 40 years later. Sound familiar?) Anyway, IBM’s 1962 recruiting ad said,

"IBM programmers ... are devising programs that in turn use machine capability for formulating new programs. They are creating programs that enable computers to diagnose their own faults through self-checking. And they are helping to design the systems that will let scientists and engineers 'talk' to machines in the everyday language of science and engineering."

I don't know about you, but I hope they finish these projects before I retire. I so much want to talk to my computer in the everyday language of science and engineering. (Sound familiar?)

Predictions about Predictions

Patrick Henry once said, "I have but one lamp to guide my life. I only know the future from the past." So, if the past can be used to make predictions, what predictions can we make using past predictions as a guide? Here are some that I've made, for myself:

1. Editors will predict what will be popular in the future. So will recruiters. They will be wrong.

2. People will predict that computers will get so cheap that programmers will be eliminated. They will be wrong.

3. People will predict that thinking and problem solving and other human activities will not be as important in the future as in the past. They will be wrong.

4. People will predict that there won't be anything really new to do with computers (just Christmas-card labels and everyday language of science and engineering). They will be wrong.

So, here's my advice for the future. Read some books, but not too many on one subject—and don't take editors too seriously. Learn the most general of skills—how to think better and how to work with other people more effectively. Then look for assignments where you can apply those talents to build new things—but probably not things that are going to replace people. And, if you follow my predictions, you'll probably have a successful and prosperous consulting career.

But I'm probably wrong.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Weinberg's Consulting Target

I woke up so early one morning that I surprised a mouse making her rounds of my bathroom.

She surprised me, too, so I decided against further roaming in the dark house. I fetched Beverly, the calico cat, to protect me, then barricaded both of us in Dani's office, along with a stack of articles I'd been meaning to read.

One set of articles particularly interested me, as well they should. They were a set of views on "how computers affect our lives" - a topic I could hardly fail to find important. Perhaps I would learn how to program my Mac to trap mice, which would certainly affect my life!

Although I was doubly wide awake, I couldn't seem to finish the first article. Even though the essay was one page long, my mind kept drifting away. One sentence, three paragraphs deep in the article, kept losing me halfway through its 47 words. I consoled myself by stroking Beverly, but it didn't help.

Putting Bev back on the floor where she could do a better guard job, I decided to skip the first article and proceed to the second. Both proved wise moves. The mouse appeared from under the closet door, and the second article was almost as exciting as the ensuing cat-and-mouse interaction. (Beverly can't catch mice, but mice don't know that.)

I returned to the first article. No luck. Worse, in fact, than the original attempt, for the second article had set a high standard that the first couldn't possibly match. I pondered what I would have to do to reach the end of this article, and when I glanced there, my eye fell upon the author's name. Let's call him Dr. X.

As it turned out, I knew Dr. X well - to my dismay. I've attempted to read perhaps a dozen Dr. X articles, but I've never managed to finish even one. I once was so frustrated that I measured the Fog Index of a Dr. X article. A Fog Index of 12 is considered the maximum one ought to reach in technical writing. (This essay has a Fog Index of about 10.) Dr. X's Fog Index was 41!

Dr. X's writing reminds me of a third-year sociology graduate student trying to impress professors with superior erudition and obscurity. Too bad, I thought, that I hadn't tried to read Dr. X the previous evening. The soporific effect would have exceeded a glass of warm milk and two sleeping pills, and I wouldn't have risen early enough to see the dreaded mouse.

So what's the point of this story? Curiously, in spite of the deadening effect of his writing, I don't consider Dr. X a failed writer. His writing is so bad I can't really get involved in his subject matter. Consequently, I never associate his abominable writing with his content. Even though I've tried to read a dozen of his works, I've never lost my taste for his subjects.

In contrast, consider Mr. Y, an author who writes on another of my favorite subjects - systems theory. Mr. Y has a typical Fog Index of 18, considerably lower than Dr. X's and well within my tolerance for a subject that truly fascinates me. But there's a different quality to Mr. Y's writing - a quality that's not captured by the simple Fog Index. It's that quality that makes Mr. Y a failure.

What is that quality? Whenever I read his work, I acquire a bad taste about his subject. Whereas Dr. X leaves me unmoved, Mr. Y moves me against further learning. To me, that is the ultimate sin of any writer or teacher.

When I write a book or essay, or teach a course, I have one fundamental measure of failure, which I call Weinberg's Target:

After exposure to my work, does the audience care less about the subject than they did before?

If the answer is Yes, I've failed.

If the answer is No, I've succeeded, and I'm happy for it. Perhaps you consider my goal too modest. Perhaps you aspire to something greater, like making the student learn something, or even love the subject. Oh, I'm not dismayed by such fine outcomes, but I don't think it's a reasonable goal to expect them.

If you think my goal is too modest, reflect back on your own educational experiences - the books you've read, the courses you've taken, the films you've watched. How many have actually met Weinberg's Target? I rarely meet a person who's willing to claim more than one in ten for courses, or one in five for textbooks, or one in twenty for "educational" films.

So Weinberg's Target isn't so modest after all, but there's a more important reason for adopting it as your personal goal. Nobody really understands learning - not well enough to succeed with every student, or even seventy-five per cent of them. Learning, it seems, is a matter of repeated attempts, until one finds a teacher, a book, a film, an approach, a flash, or something that finally gets the point across. I want never to discourage a student's continuing search for enlightenment.

There's a moral here that stretches beyond teaching and learning, a moral that contractors often miss. A long time ago, Robert Burns also surprised a mouse - by turning up her nest with his plough. He told her those words we all know (and can read even though they're Scottish, not English):

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain,
The best laid schemes o' mice and men
Gang aft agley,
And lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy!

Burns knew nothing of computers, but he was a systems thinker, and he knew that mice and men wouldn't change much in 200 years. My best laid schemes still "gang aft agley," and contracts I take with promised joy sometimes leave me nought but grief and pain. When departing such disappointing situations, I'm often tempted to leave a bit of grief and pain for those who remain. Then I remember that morning with X and Y and the mouse, and Weinberg's Target emerges to restrain my worst scheming.

At such distressful times, I easily forget that I'm not just one individual, but part of a profession, one of thousands of consultants. It's a profession that has its share of Ys whose behavior spoils the profession for others. Even if I've done a lousy job, an X job, I want my clients to realize that if they have a bad taste, it's just me, and just in this situation. I don't want to reflect poorly on my colleagues, and I don't want to spoil them for some future consulting.

So, this is Weinberg's Target applied to consulting:

After I leave,
is the client less likely to hire a consultant than they were before?

I believe this is the minimum we owe our profession.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Yielding to Pressure vs. Negotiating

In my recent consulting clinic, we spent more than a day on negotiating—assignments, prices, conditions, schedules, and just about anything in the relationship between consultant and client. As homework, we were all supposed to negotiate something. I got a free meal for two. Someone else got $50 off the price of a jacket. One participant got on the phone and doubled the fee he had been receiving from a client.

For Americans, at least, negotiating seems to be a dirty word, a taboo—a taboo the homework was assigned to overcome. We learned many thing about negotiating, but the most important were about the emotional barriers we erect for ourselves. To learn about such barriers, let's look at two scenarios of negotiations that went wrong for consultants who were retained to produce a software component for a client.

Here's Scenario Number One:

Bob (the client boss): Fay, what's your estimate of when that component will be ready to ship to testing?

Fay (the consultant): If I get the equipment I've requisitioned, I'm pretty sure I can have it ready in 14 weeks.

Bob: [looking disappointed] Oh.

Fay: Isn't that okay?

Bob: Well,...

Fay: I suppose I can really push and get it in 12 weeks.

Bob: [still looking disappointed] Oh.

Fay: Darn. Well, if everything goes exactly right, I can make it in 10 weeks.

Bob: [brightening a little] Did you say eight?

Fay: Okay, I guess I can push for eight.

Bob: [smiling] That's terrific, Kay. I knew you could do it!

Here's Scenario Number Two:

Darlene (the client boss): Ira, what's your estimate of when that component will be ready to ship to testing?

Ira (the consultant): If I get the equipment I've requisitioned, I'm pretty sure I can have it ready in 14 weeks.

Darlene: [standing up and raising her voice] Ira, that's simply not acceptable. I want it in eight weeks, not a day later!

Ira: [eyes lowered to the his shoelaces] Uh... But there's just too much to ...

Darlene: [turning red, and raising her voice another level] Ira! I hope you're not about to say something negative! You know we're a team here, and we don't have room for nay-sayers!

Ira: [trying to swallow when his throat is dry] Well... I suppose I could...

Darlene: [breaking into a tight smile] could do it! I knew you'd find a way, Ira. [turning towards the door] All right, then. I have your commitment, so don't disappoint me. See you in eight weeks! [out the door].

Q: What's the important difference between these two scenarios?

A: Nothing. Nothing important, that is. Bob used a soft approach; Darlene used a hard approach, but nothing was really different. Successful negotiations usually involve trade-offs among schedule, resources, and technical specifications, but these two contain no trading off at all—just different kinds of manipulations to make one person submit to another person's desires.

Scenario Number Three, which should produce a better result

Annabelle (the client boss): Myron, what's your estimate of when that component will be ready to ship to testing?

Myron (the consultant): If I get the equipment I've requisitioned, I'm pretty sure I can have it ready in 14 weeks.

Annabelle: [looking disappointed] Oh.

Myron: Isn't that okay?

Annabelle: Well, not really.

Myron: If the schedule is that important, we can look at alternatives.

Annabelle: I can't give you any more people. We're shorthanded already.

Myron: Darn. Well, actually, new people right now might be more disruptive than helpful. Well, something has to give—we can't reduce schedule and hold resources and specs constant.

Annabelle: That's certainly true. But I do need something to show to my marketing team in eight weeks. There's that business expo where we have to do a demo, and I can't change that date.

Myron: Okay, I guess we'll have to see what features we leave out of the demo, or perhaps fake a bit.

Annabelle: [smiling] That sounds like what we'll have to do, Myron. Let's take a look at what you can give us that will look good in eight weeks.
And so Annabelle and Myron get down to the business of examining which features will contribute most to a good demo (her problem) while at the same time being within Myron's team's capabilities (his problem). Nobody was forced; nobody was manipulated. The negotiation stayed open and based on facts, not speculation or screaming or placating.

Of course, this kind of negotiation takes trust—trust in the other person, but even more, trust in yourself.

- You must feel that you can be honest without being taken advantage of.

- You must be confident that you understand the trade-offs on your own side of the business.

- You must have enough self-esteem to be able to say what you don't know.

- It also helps to know that agreements forged through manipulation will be weak and unreliable agreements.

In my experience, at least half of the problems consultants have with clients are the result of poor negotiation—usually the result lack of skill and will to deal with various forms of conscious or unconscious manipulation by their negotiating partner.

Do you understand? I have your commitment to learn to do better at dealing with manipulation, so don't disappoint me!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Estimating Projects: A History of Failure

When I lived in Crested Butte, Colorado, I sometimes hiked across the mountains to Aspen. There were five hiking trails that I knew of, all of them former toll roads from the old gold-mining days when the only way to reach Aspen was through Crested Butte. As I struggled to breathe going up these 13,000+ foot passes, I often wondered why there were five toll roads. But the time I'd hiked all five, I knew the answer. There were five toll roads because none of them were very good.

Consultants are frequently given the task of estimating, or helping to estimate, projects. To start with, they're asked to estimate how long it's going to take to solve their client's problem—which is usually undefined. Although there have been billions of words written on dozens of methods of estimating projects, most of them are, in my opinion, useless or nonsensical. Or both. Like toll roads to Aspen, there are so many because none of them are very good.

Why do I say they're not very good? Well, why were the toll roads to Apsen not very good? Mostly, I think, because if you're walking from Crested Butte to Aspen, you have to cross an extremely high barrier. We might want to be able to hike over a 13,000 foot pass without breathing hard, but it's impossible (at least for most of us).

And that's the primary reason that all these estimating methods are not very good is exactly the same: they are trying to do something that's impossible—predict the future. Sure, we'd all like to do this, but we can't.

People have been trying to predict the future as long as people have been around, so I thought it would be useful to read about methods from the past, so perhaps you could relate them to some of the failures of today. The following post is from dgc, a friend who has worked for a long time in the software industry, mostly as a contractor and consultant—long enough not to take himself too seriously, a good lesson for all of us consultants.

Some Estimating Methods

The fabulous Wizard of Oz
Retired from his racket because,
What with up-to-date science,
To most of his clients
He wasn’t the Wizard he was.
- Anonymous

Since estimation seems to have much in common with the mantic arts (i.e., the arts of divination), I turn to the writings of an expert in that field: Dreamas Gentilharte Cheynelokk, a nearly thousand-year-old wizard who writes about the mysteries of CMMI (Comprehensive Magistrate of Magical Integrity) certification.

For those unfamiliar with this form of CMMI, Dreamas briefly describes its five levels of magical competence as follows (the translation of this text is by Dr. Devin G. Kettenschloss in "Paduan Vellums, Volume VI, Item lvii- A Translation" following the seminal work of the late Dr. Blanche V. Foote-Falles):

"(1) Erotic [1]: animalistic, sensual, like kindling consumed in a flame, uncontrollable, never twice the same, exciting

(2) Telestic [2]: ritualistic, repeated, like an unbending oak planted in the earth, formal, delimited and limited capacities, routine

(3) Mantic [3]: prophetic, governable, like a ship sailing home on uncharted seas, divinatory, observed and proven by trial, directed

(4) Poetic: rhapsodic, meted, like a falcon riding steady the rolling air [4], quantifiable, sound and proportioned in structure, balanced

(5) Ecstatic [5]: euphoric, evolving, like the shining cosmic quintessence [6], heavenly transcendence married to earthly immanence, sustained."

Dreamas goes on to describe hundreds of mantic techniques useful across all aspects of software development. But for the topic of estimation, the following description of the art of "Alectryomancy" seems relevant when speaking about making time/schedule estimates for a project, especially since the technique used differs based on the CMMI level of the organization (again quoting from the previously cited translation).

"Alectryomancy [7]: Divination by the Actions of Poultry Pecking at Grain

So much software development goes awry for lack of sufficient numbers of dedicated top-breed poultry!

For those functioning at the CMMI Level 1 (Erotic), any hen or rooster of any kind will do. Simply put out a handful of grain and let the chicken loose for one minute. At the end of one minute, guess how many grains the chicken ate and multiply by 3. This calculation will yield the needed number of hours, days, weeks, months or years it will take to complete the project.

Those groups at CMMI Level 2 (Telestic) laugh at that naiveté. The wizards at this level realize it is not that easy. First, more chickens are needed, at least three but never more than nine. Second, before being let loose on the grain the chickens properly motivated with loud chanting and the waving of gleaming, sharpened axes. Third, the grain for each bird is placed in a line running east to west and the first grain eaten by each bird is the estimate. That is, if the 4th grain from the east is the first eaten by a hen, then the estimate from that hen is 4. Finally, after all chickens are done, the lowest estimate is picked with any multiplicative factor determined by the wizards using Capnomancy (divination by smoke) or Catoptromancy (divination by mirrors placed under water).

But groups at CMMI Level 3 (Mantic) realize estimation is a daring, daunting and dangerous undertaking. So in their practice, they only use roosters. Each rooster is allowed to make its estimate by pecking a grain in its own sealed off arena. A variety of techniques for deriving the numerical estimate can be employed (counting grains, counting volume, which grain is first picked, which is last picked, etc.) with skilled wizards selecting in advance the appropriate technique by means of Gyromancy (by whirling until dizzy). After each rooster has produced his estimate, all the roosters are placed in one arena for a cockfight {SIDE NOTE FROM 'dgc': I realize the cruelty of this technique may offend some people's sensibilities, but that is what the original text says} with the winning cock's estimate being adopted [8] and everyone being held to that estimate under threat of the hatchet.

Groups at CMMI Level 4 (Poetic) with more refined sensibilities bemoan the waste of possibly good estimators by the Mantic level wizards as well as the blatant discrimination against hens. Therefore, they eschew the wastefulness of cockfights and use both hens and roosters; but they also carefully record and plot age, breed, and accuracy of auguries over time. In addition, no matter what anyone says about chickens and lips, they firmly believe in the importance of using Labiomancy (divination by lip reading) as part of their process.

Finally, wizards at CMMI Level 5 (Ecstatic) realize that the work of estimation is never done. So they use the greatest number of poultry and have them estimating and reestimating often using dozens of techniques and inventing new ones whenever needed. At this level, the chicken coop and yard is a constant bustle of activity yielding untold numbers of eggs. After all, in the end, it is all about the real egg production."

Footnotes (From the translation)

[1] From the Greek meaning "sexual love" as associated with Eros, who is not the cute cupid of modern times but is rather the passionate young god, son of Venus, as best described in Apuleius' story of Psyche and Eros in "The Golden Ass" (Chapters 7-9).

[2] Very rare in modern English. Derives from the Greek "telestes," meaning a "hierophant or expounder of sacred mysteries."

[3] The Romans, especially Cicero in his treatise "De Divinatione," clearly preferred the word "divination," which derives from the Latin "divinus" and indicates a deific origin, to Plato's "mantic," which is equivalent to the Latin word "furor" meaning "madness, lunacy, or raving."

[4] Echoing Gerard Manly Hopkins' "The Windhover" (

[5] There is a delicious irony in the CMMI master's choice of the word "ecstatic" for their highest and ideal level. From the writings of mystics throughout the ages, ecstasy is often associated with displays of frenzy and agitation bearing strong sexual overtones. See, for example, the writings of the Spanish mystics St. Teresa of Avila ("Interior Castles") or St. John of the Cross ("Dark Night of the Soul"). Given these strong sexual associations, it is possible it might be somewhat difficult to see how the Ecstatic level differs from the lowest level, Erotic.

[6] Here, Dreamas means the ancient and medieval concept of the perfect material of which the stars were made: an exact blend of all other types of matter (fire, earth, water, and air).

[7] An alternate spelling is "Alectromancy."

[8] Note how in many ways this is similar to the Delphi technique of estimation some speak of in software engineering.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Money Questions 1.

Q: What’s the most common question you’re asked since the publication of your two books on consulting?

A: It’s no single question, but a collection of questions around a common theme: money and the consulting contract. In The Secrets of Consulting, I’ve written about how to figure out how much to charge, but not about other issues like the messy business of collecting what you charge, or how to deal with price negotiations. So, for a while, I'll provide “extra chapters” to answer address some of these untidy questions.

Q: A prospective client wants me to lower my rates. He says he can hire other consultants for 30% less than I’ve asked for. What should I do?

A: Don't ever let yourself be a commodity. I learned this lesson early from my grandmother, Ethel, who owned a grocery store. “Don't be a commodity,” she always said. “Everyone can buy the same groceries, and the supermarkets can buy them cheaper than I ever can. So I have to offer something different.”

Ethel did things in the store to differentiate her from other stores in the neighborhood. She was nicer to her customers. She knew everyone one of them by name, and gave each one of them personal attention. She loved to take special orders from them, and went to a great deal of trouble to find exactly what they wanted. In those items, like meat and other perishables, she offered better quality than the supermarkets.

She offered many “extra” services, some of which have finally been taken over by today’s supermarkets. She offered credit, which was rare in grocery stores in those days, and absolutely taboo in supermarkets. She cashed checks, put things away for her customers who called, and provided a delivery service (which was often me, when I was in town).

In general, she was aware of her customers' requirements, and responded with inventory that matched their individual tastes. (examples)

So, offer something extra, but don’t lower your price.

Q: Should I pretend I have more qualifications than I really do, to keep my price up?

A: Don't pretend you're what you aren't just to get a job. If you do, you'll soon be complaining that the job doesn't fit the real you.

Q: My client just won't budge. Aren't there some circumstances in which it's okay to lower my price?

A: If they give you something extra, you can lower your price accordingly. For instance, if they're willing to pay you a non-refundable retainer up front, you can offer a discount. Or perhaps they'll pay certain expenses that you were prepared to pay yourself. Over the years, clients have given my the use of cars and computers as extra compensation—compensation that didn't really cost them anything because the cars and computers were just sitting around not being used.

Perhaps the biggest break I give is when the client does not require I come to their offices to consult or teach. If they come to me, the get a discount. Some young consultants think of the travel itself as a form of compensation, as I did long ago. Now, travel is a definitely negative for me, so I reward those clients who don't require it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

There-then-them vs. Here-now-us

On my writing blog the other day, I posted the following paragraph as part of a writing exercise:

Anger, for a consultant, is a costly luxury, and I am by nature somewhat of a cheapskate. By eliminating there-then-them anger, I cut my angry outbursts in half. By noticing my pattern of anger escalation, I dampen nine-tenths of the remaining half to the point where it doesn't interfere with my consulting practice. That leaves only about 5 per cent of the angry episodes I used to have, just one in twenty. Although this seems a dramatic improvement in frequency, it doesn't result in an equally dramatic improvement in the cost of my angry outbursts.

In response, dgc said.: 'What does "there-then-them" mean in the phrase "there-then-them anger" in the original of the Writing Blog exercise? I can’t quite determine the meaning of that phrase from the context.'

Here's my answer:

There-then-them is in contrast to here-now-us, which are the problem-solving conditions expert consultants try to establish and maintain. When people are responding to something that happened somewhere else (there), or at some other time (then), or with some other people (them), you're not going to have much luck dealing with problems.

In the example above, sometimes I find myself growing angry at my clients, only to realize that I'm responding to something similar the client said or did at another time or place. Or perhaps I'm responding to something similar my mother used to say to me when I was five years old. Clearly, I'm going to have to bring my mind into the present context if I'm to be effective.

And, of course, my clients have the same need for here-now-us, so I often them solve problems by bringing them back to the present context, especially when their emotional reactions seem to be directed at me for no reason I can ascertain. One woman attacked me in a meeting, accusing me of mocking her. I couldn't figure it out until I managed to persuade her to give me details. It turned out that I had used the word "snow," which was the name of her former husband whom she had recently divorced. She thought I knew about the divorce (other people did, but I didn't) and was taunting her by alluding to it. Using here-now-us cleared up an enormous emotional outburst.

So, dcg, does that clear it up?