I was 13, on my porch, bored, and holding still ...my mom was cutting my hair. Then she said something dreadful: "Oops." That was the last time I didn't have a professional do my hair. You would think visiting a professional would solve that problem. However, my quest for a good haircut didn't end there. It seems professionals don't all have the same skill level and I'm finicky about my hair. It's Chicago winter and I refuse to wear a cap over the top of my head because I can't stand hat hair. Tonight the lady cutting my hair had trouble doing what I wanted. She was obviously new and a bit inexperienced. Over the years I've learned a bit about what the good stylists did. So I started helping her. I don't do hair but I do know how to set things up so I can watch my hair take shape and help point things out to her as she goes along. The result was good hair. The other result is that I don't have to organize my life around the great stylists' schedules in order to be sure I get the hair that I need. Any store, any time, any stylist...I get good hair.
It's like that with IT. You can go out and hire web developers, programmers, graphic designers, etc. but you aren't always getting the best when you do this. I know how to tell what competencies these professionals have. And I use that knowledge to customize the strategy for the needs of the clients I serve (the "Business"). There's no replacement for skill and experience, but being able to work with what you have is a business survival tactic. To be honest, I fear for small businesses out there hiring help based on a candidate's portfolio or resume and assuming that they also have competency to keep a project on time, on budget, and of sufficient quality. It's not even safe hiring off of good reviews. Reviews must be taken with a grain of salt since people have varying tolerance levels for lateness, cost, and compromise. Their 4 stars and your 4 stars might not be the same.
If you have IT needs and don't want your business to have a bad hair day, you can start here. But, if you don't want to click a link, here are some quick tips on getting the most out of your IT help.
1. Don't keep changing or adding to your requirements. I don't move my head around when they cut my hair and it's the same thing. Work out a specific set of needs and then stick to it.
2. Ask about their experience on estimating. Have they had to estimate before on a schedule and then stick to it? A lot of freelancers like to work on their own clock. Look for ones that have experience working for an employer or make sure the freelancer can tell you how they make sure a project finishes on time.
3. Constantly monitor that what you want (or need) is worth the trouble and cost. Consulting companies and freelancers often have a customer-centric approach which has the downside of saying 'yes' to everything you ask for even if the ROI is questionable. So, as you work on your requirements, solicit their opinions on complexity so that you can evaluate whether it's worth doing. Itemize your requirements and prioritize them so you can get complexity feedback then scratch those that don't seem like they are worth the trouble.
4. Watch out for your assumptions. If you don't see it in writing in the contract then it likely won't be done. If you don't have a lot of experience giving requirements to technical people, you should really reach out to someone like me (i.e. someone with business IT experience). But, if not, then remember that they will give you statements of work that are pretty literal. If you don't see verbiage specific to something that you want, ask about it. Computers do only what you tell them... nothing more and nothing less. Practitioners of computers tend to act the same way. What you don't want is to receive a work order and then get broadsided when what's delivered isn't what you expected.
Feel free to share experiences and other lessons learned!