Category Archives: Something to think about

Talking about rates amongst peers…

Rates… How much to charge? Who’s charging how much?  What for? etc. Very subjective topic, and not that straightforward to discuss.

I blogged about this topic last year, What’s in a rate? and Was the rate worth it? to discuss some intrinsic considerations that go into determining rates.

This is a brief summary of 90+ minutes of discussions…

Last Wednesday I facilitated an ISPI Montreal event, entitled “Everything you always wanted to know about rates, but were afraid to ask…“. It was a pretty good event, lots of questions and interaction between participants. We were particularly happy that we had a fair number of student from Concordia University’s Educational Technology program: gave them the opportunity to hear their future peers talk about this hot, business topic.

Part of the event was to present the results of a survey we ran to our local ISPI Montreal members, and compare the results to the same survey dating back to 2004: the conclusion?  Rates have not changed that much over a decade (see for yourself).  Most likely due to the fluctuation of the economy, which affects the job market and the expenditures for training. And we all know that tougher times brings down the axe on training which is always front and center for the chopping block.   😦

We basically asked the participants two questions, to trigger some discussion and reflection…

First: What factors influence the rate you charge when working directly with a client?

Participants broke off in small groups and went off to come up with their prioritized list of factors. We tried to mingle the students evenly so they benefit as mush as possible from their future peers.

The result? See for yourself… (sorry, I’m missing one)

Of course skills set, experience and knowledge came out, but not education per se, or more precisely, the need to have an education such as the one offered in Educational Technology.

What came out more was about the type of work and the context in which that work needs to be done: type of work, the market, the economy, the profile of the work, its length, specific technical skills, the budget available, the industry, etc.

Second: How do you explain/justify your rate?

This question we addressed as one group.

Right off the bat there was a reaction to the word “justify”. Didn’t expect it but wasn’t surprised. What was argued is the rate you present is the rate that should be. I guess it’s fine when either you offer a pretty clear value of what that rate buys, or there isn’t much competition, or you’re in demand – one would assume that if you are in demand then you are worth what you are charging.

But when you don’t have any of those conditions, it’s a different ballgame. Especially if you’re dealing with a client that is bottom-line driven. But you can always pass.

The discussion moved towards the concepts of value, uniqueness and expectations. In essence, it’s about being a business: being a consultant requires that you look at yourself as the “product” your business offers. As such, you need to need to consider these concepts and package a service offer that supports the rate you want.  Or, as one of the students said, the rate you “offer”.

But all in all, rates are just a unit for calculations, right? The bigger question is “how much one takes to do a job?” If one person charges $100/hr and takes 100 hrs to do a job, while another charges $75/hr and takes the same amount of time, with the same outcome in quality and alignment with expectations, why is the cost different? We often say that in theory, the higher the rate, the faster the job and the higher the quality, right? Or is it not so clear cut?

As I say in my previous posts, there are a lot of intrinsic aspects that add value to a person offering their services. The key, as it was discussed in the latter part of the evening, is the value offered and the value required. This leads to clearly stating and understanding expectations from both sides of the fence.

One point was brought up about using salary as a gauge to determine an equivalent rate. A friend of mine who’s working in a para-public organization explained to me the way they do it: you take the salary, for this example let’s say… $50k for a junior position, add 30% to cover benefits, and then account for how much time off you want, how much time you think you’ll need to run your business and LOOK FOR WORK, that gives you a daily rate of about $325 or an hourly rate of $41. These numbers came up with this little Excel sheet I made for you.  🙂

More live discussions should be had, on topics such as base Ratios for Design and Development, scoping & estimating, constraints & risks…

Makes sense?

PS: you can always take a look at my previous posts on these topics:

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Feed your brain and your soul: get out there!

Get out there!

Getting out of your normal, daily space is very important not only to breathe fresh air and exercise your body, but also to stimulate your neurones, make new connections, discover what’s out there, outside your bubble. Going to professional gatherings such as conferences is a great way of doing just that.

I had the chance last week to do two conferences: CSTD Conference & Trade Show 2014 and Agile Montreal Tour 2014.

It was simply… exhilarating. Not only because I had not had the chance to do it for many years, but this time was the right moment: lots of talk about change, agility, creativity and innovation. Great keynotes, and a choice of great sessions, at least I was lucky in my selection.

But more importantly, it was about the experience of being with other people, other like-minded people AND other people, period.

You never know where a conversation will lead, you never know what connection you’ll make (besides the Linkedin one). For sure that it is not that easy to walk around strangers, and fight the urge to cluster with the people we know, who will make us feel “safe”. People who know me are surprised when I tell them I’m shy: it’s true, it takes me a lot of energy to make the first step, to engage a stranger in a conversation. I do it not only because I must, but because I know that it just gets easier: a stranger is also a person, with feelings and concerns and yes, fears. If it doesn’t click, it wasn’t meant to be. But if it does, watch out, you’re in for a treat. Just be yourself and you’ll learn something, even maybe about yourself.

So next time you have an opportunity to get together with other people, other than your colleagues (!), to get out of YOUR bubble, TAKE IT!

Anyway, I’ll stop here, and prepare another post on the CSTD conference.

Building Business Partnerships: a never-ending process.

The inner workings of a business partnership
The inner workings of a business partnership: a machine that needs caring.

Isn’t it great the moment you realize that you have a great working relationship with your client, or your vendor? The moment you can say that you are partners? That you are both gaining from working together? This happens when you realize how well you work together, how well you understand each other, how well you work out the kinks.

No matter how big or how small the business connexion, getting to that level facilitates and optimizes processes, allows all to work efficiently and reach goals faster, be more productive.

Partnerships start with building trust, the foundation of any relationship. With trust we get more efficient, more agile, more responsive. As we build trust, we learn more about each other, we refine our communication, we open up, we anticipate each others needs.

We build up history to get better at what we both do. We define and refine our mutual expectations. Over time we reduce bureaucracy to increase efficiency. We all get stronger and accomplish more.

It’s a two-way street where we learn, adapt, contribute, collaborate, and adapt some more.

We grow together.

Like any relationship, it’s an ongoing thing: it needs to be maintained and nurtured. You cannot loose sight of this.

WARNING: Complacensy is enemy #1! 

In business, people come and go, but the organizations remain. Organizations evolve, and so must partnerships. When a partner’s context changes, others should be able to step up to the plate and do their best to help or adjust, as needed. That is the beauty of partnerships. It might not be easy, even pleasant (which may be a sign that complaisance snuck in…), but the goal is to find a solution together.

Partnerships are not guaranteed. They are continuously evolving. If you don’t want to loose your investment, do what you need to maintain them and don’t let your partnerships break down.

Make sense?

Respectful Teamwork.

Respectful_Teamwork

We’re all busy, we’ve all got stuff to do, lots of stuff… And when you work in a team, when you depend on other people’s input (and here I mean anybody you need to work with, whether they are colleagues or clients), you need collaboration, everyone’s “best” collaboration… right?

What happens when someone doesn’t collaborate, doesn’t give their best? Frustration, delays, rework, etc.

The key point here is respect.

A lack of respect is like a pot hole or a road block… They make you go out of your way to avoid them, and they make you take alternate routes so you don’t have to deal with them again.

Sometimes it’s unintentional: we get so busy we don’t realize we… lack respect. If we are too busy, we just need to say it.  Acknowledge the request, say what you can do and when you can do it.

Do for others what you expect others do for you.

Respect goes a long way. It drives people. It energizes them:

  • It makes them want to work with you!
  • It makes them want to give you their best!
  • It makes them want to figure it out with you!

When working in a team, we all need to:

  • Give enough time for others to respond to request – it’s hard sometimes, because things move so fast, but you’ve got to try – I [try to] remind myself regularly… 🙂
  • Be helpful – if it doesn’t come naturally, remember that what goes around comes around.
  • Take the time to communicate properly – especially when using email: short, concise, to the point… re-read yourself, as if you were the person who is going to read it.
  • Confirm you are understood.
  • Confirm you understand.
  • If you can’t do something right away, let others know.

One last thing… For those who forget: respect is earned.

Make sense?

I’ve thought about it so much… I must be right. Right?

Am i right?

How many times have you been  involved in a situation where you had to deal with someone pushing their position or ideas on you?

How many times was it YOU doing the pushing?

The way we approach things and the way we make decisions, comes from our knowledge and experience and the more we have, the more assertive we become. This can be good, especially when we’re in a lead position: someone needs to take charge, while others need to be directed. But it doesn’t mean we’re always right! We have to be careful not to become a bully!

Side note: It’s not because we’ve done it a certain way before that we shouldn’t look at finding a better way to do it. There is always room for improvement, right?

Side note #2: It’s not because we dreamed up a way to doing something (meaning we never actually tried it) that it is the right way of doing it!

When we’re looking at doing something different, whether it’s completely new, or bigger in scope, or working with people we have never worked with before, or tackling a type of activity we have never done before, we always need to step back and consider alternatives, especially when people around you are TRYING to tell you so. At the very least, we need to keep an open mind. And this means listening and understanding what others are trying to say: not just humoring them!

Side note #3: I remember something like this on Linkedin recently… “Listen to understand, not to prepare your reply.”

Makes sense?

Training Projects: How much does it cost? How long will it take?

How much - How long

“How much will this cost?”

“How long will it take?”

Don’t you love these questions? Especially when you’re asked before you had a chance to get enough information to provide a proper answer.

So how do you answer these? …and be comfortable with your answer, as you may very well have to deliver on it!

I see a few ways to answer these:

  • “Not sure… I’ll get back to you.” Safe answer, but be sure to get back with an answer, whatever it is, even if it is a referral to someone else.
  • Give a ballpark. Make sure you’re range is wide enough to cover your butt, but note that they’ll specifically remember the lower end.
  • Give a “wag”. If your ballpark’s range is too big, then it’s a wag (“wild ass guess”). Make sure you use that term, and say why you’re using it.
  • Give a “researched” answer based on information obtained through research.
  • Give an “experienced” answer based on direct experience (yours or your team’s). This is the best one, as it takes into account people, methodologies, tools, etc. that you know.

What you need to do is get the conversation going, to get the information you need to properly answer the questions. You’ll need details about this, that and the other thing. The less experience or knowledge you have at doing the work you have to estimate, the more detailed breakdown you should do. If you can’t break it down, then you need to add assumptions on which your estimate is based. The problem is that the more assumptions you add, the more restrictive your proposal may become.

You will get the details you need through a fairly elaborate line of questioning that cover a wide range of areas, such as: business goals, executive support, performance goals, subject-matter, availability of existing useable materials, target audience(s), learner’s location, level of details, learning outcomes, learning strategies, expected level of interactivity and engagement, expected/required length of the training, timeframe, availability of SMEs, number of review cycles, etc. …and, of course, the client’s values.

As there are many factors to consider, I usually recommended a two-part approach: do a first [smaller] project to scope the second [much bigger] project. I’ll dig more into scoping in follow-up posts…

So here’s a takeaway point: keep track of the effort spent during your projects, in the same way you estimated it in the first place! This way you’ll start collecting data on which you’ll be able to base your future estimates!

Makes sense?

Creativity and Innovation: Getting a boost from a “naive” perspective

a naive perspective

I read an interesting passage in a very interesting book this morning (MAVERICK by Ricardo Semler), highlighting the value of having “naive” eyes in a discussion about looking for improvements. Here’s the gist of the mini-story:

First, a bit of background: this book is about a leader wanting to make his large organization more efficient, reduce overhead, be more engaging for its employees. It this specific part (chapter 29 to be precise), employees came up with the idea to “take a small group raised in Semco’s  culture and familiar with its people and its products […] and set them free.” This meant no more responsibilities other than think about stuff, “invent new products, refine old ones, devise market strategies, unearth cat reductions and production efficiencies, even dream up new lines of business.” What a great idea!!!!   🙂

Now the mini-story is about one of this “thinking” group’s new product successes, and the fact that the successful idea came from the group’s non-technical person (she actually was a coordinator for training and organizational development). She and her two engineering colleagues were studying a paint mixer, and after she found out that those mixers were manually cleaned between paint batches, she suggested that “someone should invent a giant toothbrush to clean the tanks.”

The result: a new “brushlike appendage that, hooked on our mixer, swept the sides and bottom of the tank automatically, eliminating manual labor.”

Having a “naive” perspective put into the mix may not automatically yield such a successful result, but I strongly believe that it gives a “boost”, even if very small, to the creative process. It helps connecting the dots, it triggers other thoughts, it even helps you clarify and support what you’re already thinking…

The key of course is to keep it under control, not let it take you all over the place, which ends up wasting time. It’s part of that creative process that goes up and down, from high altitude to the ground floor and up again… Usually need someone to keep things into perspective, usually the lead or PM.

Of course, there is the “fresh” eyes perspective too. But they are not the same. The “fresh” comes from someone with a very similar background and experiences as most of those involved in the discussion. The “naive” eyes perspective is from someone with a different background and experiences. Actually, I would go so far to say that there are possibly two types of “naive” perspective:

  • From someone with experience, that can infer from it;
  • From someone without experience, that can infer from non-applied knowledge, like the newbie fresh out of school.

The point is: never dismiss the value of someone else’s input. Unless this someone is known to provide input without a valid interest in adding value…  😉

Make sense?