At one point I was asked to join a call because the project we were on was getting complicated. It was a system integration project where we'd move data from one DBMS into another, nightly. Any time you cross from one system to another there's work you have to do. So I thought I was being asked to join the call to deal with that.
But that wasn't the issue. Instead, the issue was that our client had other vendors working on other parts of the system. Did I mention that this was a really big system?
So what they were proposing was additional weekly calls. And of course they wanted my engineer on the call every single week. So my guy was bubbling it up, because he needed my authority to keep getting on these calls.
Do you know what I was thinking about? It wasn't schema issues when dealing with Oracle. It wasn't performance issues of nightly data moving over the network. It wasn't technical at all.
It was our proposal and monthly invoices. They didn't have any room on them for weekly calls.
When technologists quote projects
Do you know what happens in our brains when engineers are hearing about a project for the first time? I'll tell you.
They're hearing a different question than may be the one they're being asked. Instead of “how much will this cost?” or “should we do this?” – both of which are great questions – they're hearing something completely different.
“Is this even possible?”
That's what we're hearing. We're hearing a challenge. Almost as if someone is saying, “Well, if you were strong enough, I bet you could pick this up, but I doubt you're that strong…”
We hear the question as a challenge and so what do we do? We say yes!
Even if maybe we should get much more familiar with saying no.
And do you know what's worse? We get so excited about the challenge that sometimes I've seen some of us (not you):
- Discount our rates to get the project.
- Estimate the project with the assumption that everything will go right!
In both cases we can end up losing our shirt, can't we?
People pay for Project Management
The most important lesson I learned from that old system integration project was simple: always put a line item on every invoice for project management.
That story ended well, in case you wondered. We finished phase one and they asked us to bid on phase two – another similar kind of project. This time, and I'm not lying or joking, our project management line item on the quote was the same size as our numbers for software development.
Know what happened? They didn't blink. Turned out we were the only one of their vendors who hadn't been charging for project management. Oh man!
I hear a lot of complaining…
Whether it's on twitter, facebook, or at conferences in the hallway, I regularly hear people complaining that customers are the issue.
They're slow at getting their things in on time. They need to be called regularly. They need to be managed. They need to be trained and educated. Then they need to be educated again. Oh and they want to meet to change scope. And then they want to change it again.
Do you have a two word phrase for all of that work? Can I give you a hint? It starts with “project” and ends with “management” and here's something else I know you already know: you should be charging for it.
You're smart. You do things that maybe only 3-5% of the planet can do (write lines of text that the computer understands and then makes it do stuff). That's not something a lot of people can do – even if you spend all your time with them, so you're a bit clueless about how special you are.
Most people can't do what you do. You know what that means, right? With great power comes great responsibility. You need to hold the hands of others to help them understand all of what you've done.
But that time doesn't have to be given away for free.
So do me a favor – and I don't care if it's not a big line item – would you add project management to your next proposal?
Trust me, you'll be a lot less frustrated about your customer time if you're getting compensated for it.