I have been a consultant for over 27 years now and I hear the same thing year after year, “Why did the end product take longer and cost more than we originally thought it would take?”
Sometimes this is due to an unforeseen requirement that surfaced during the project; sometimes it’s an unexpected technology challenge that came up; but the majority of the time, it’s due to the requirement or the request not being as detailed, as it should have been.
In my experience, most of these software solution requests that end up taking the longest time are not the more difficult projects or task orders but instead are the simplest and “should have been” quickest projects. Too often users will email me a request that they think is perfectly clear, but in actuality it lacked the necessary detail. Many assume that consultants can decipher what they really want and assumptions lead to more back and forth phone calls, emails, and interruption of your time so we can be clear about your problem.
Other times, users don’t include the full audience into their request. I am referring to the people in which the user has interacted with during their problem: the people who they have spoken to first; the backlogging of emails; if someone has tried something prior to the consultant getting it; what they were doing when the problem occurred, etc. When a request finally gets to a consultant or me and doesn’t have these items or lost them along the way during, it’s leaves me or any other consultant with unanswered questions, thus using up more time.
Let’s take an example of a request of a simple report. I often get a request such as, “Can you create a sales report that lists the items with the item number, description, quantity, unit price, and extended quantity?” They may also say they want it by date range. From that, I assume they want a header, page numbers, and date printed. Pretty simple, right? Wrong. While I am creating this, and almost done with what they want, it usually happens that they come back and say they want to also have a search by warehouse location. Possibly in another email, they add in a sort by state. Then in a follow up email, they want it summarized because it is too much data to view at once. All of these requests are simple and any consultant is able to do it. It’s not the requests that are the problem; it’s the method many use to request it that can save you both time and money. In this particular scenario the original estimate was 2 hours, but when you add in everything else it is now a full day’s worth of time; costing more money than anticipated.
So much time and money can be saved if you were to implement some basic procedures for creating a request. Let’s go back to the Report example:
- Create a standard template of what your company reports should look like that should print on each report (ie. Font, size of font, headers, footers, page numbers, dates, etc.)
- You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to keep a cohesive look between the same company.
- Create what your report should look like in Excel.
- Excel is a good tool for creating a sample report and will save a ton of time building the report.
- The report sample in Excel should include all of your mathematical formulas, where the data comes from (it doesn’t have to have the table but the system screen is fine), sorting, grouping, subtotals, etc.
- Include the person that requested the report to help you design the request. That way there is no miscommunication between the consultant and the person requesting the report. If something is missed, it’s easiest to go back and see who forgot what or it was a simple mix up.
- Make sure the consultant reads back the request to you and completely understands. Even if you have worked with this consultant for many years it will eliminate unnecessary mistakes. Consultants have many clients and although we like to have relationships with you, we can’t remember everything.
Performing this process will take maybe an hour of your time, but can save you several hours of changes simply because the consultant didn’t understand the original request entirely. It’s easiest and most beneficial to be as clear and concise as possible in your emails so consultants can do exactly what you want. This also eliminates back and forth emails, phone calls, and other time consuming interactions. Consultants are here for their clients; we don’t want to interrupt your day anymore than this problem has already. Our goal is to fix the problem quickly and with as little interference as possible.
Have questions on how to make your detailed request as specific as possible or want to know more from the consultant’s view point? Contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our KTL office at 301.360.0001.
TIMOTHY (TIM) LALLY, CPA | President/CEO
Tim is the founder and president of KTL Solutions, Inc. He provides high level guidance to our clients in order to help them better use technology within their organizations. He has an ability to understand the issue and provide a solution that best fits the client’s needs. When implementing solutions, his focus is to utilize off the shelf solutions first and customizations second.
Tim is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and has over 17 years of Microsoft Business Solutions software implementation and development experience. He started implementing Dynamics in 1987 in the early years of Great Plains on the Apple Macintosh. His responsibilities include mentoring new developers, teaching accounting principles and processes to developers, and leading the development and design of custom solutions. Tim oversees KTL’s Microsoft Business Solutions vertical market business.