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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Consulting Work Environment

The subject of the consulting work environment can be a touchy subject. There are all kinds of competing schools of thought here.

Some companies maintain that they must ensure that consultants must not have a better work environment than their actual employees. Although this point is quite valid, the best solution might actually involve upgrading the work environment of the existing employees! Clearly, this costs money, and a careful research should occur regarding the expected productivity gains that can be obtained. Research in this area is extensive if you find this subject debatable.

Another school of thought involves a goal to "encourage" the consultants to want to finish the job sooner rather than later. The distorted implementation of this goal is to make the environment moderately uncomfortable for the consultant. That way she will not become complacent and remain on-site for any longer than is necessary.

Before discussing this subject further, a practical note should be interjected. There is sometimes a limit to what a company can do in this area. The suggestion here is not to build a multimillion dollar consulting complex! Having said this, consider the following.

Because you are paying a premium rate for consultants, it is vital that you obtain premium performance. You might have addressed the performance in such ways as described in other sections within this chapter and within Appendixes A and B such as the following: obtaining heavily experienced consultants with direct experience on the specific Oracle Applications being implemented; requiring weekly status reports; avoiding fixed-price contracts; remaining involved in the project yourself; and so on. However, human performance can definitely be influenced by work environment.

It is important to find out what items the consultants feel are necessary to help improve performance. I will not discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of a mahogany desk or of the studies showing the simple influence of office lighting on human productivity and behavior. The point is that different projects have different needs.

Assume that elaborate documentation is required for the project. The primary consultants themselves might initiate much of this; however, some documentation can be identified for processing by the technical writer or by the client themselves. A $40/hour technical writer is less expensive than a $160/hour consultant, even if the technical writer is marginally less productive.

Consider a simple example of a printer. If the consultant must walk up a flight of stairs to obtain a printout, how much time is being spent on this activity? Clearly, this example is a bit exaggerated, but the point is still valid. Assume that the round-trip to the printer takes four minutes on average. Do not forget about the times that you get to a printer and find you are waiting on someone else's 80-page document. In this example, what is the cost of the purchase of an additional printer as well as the additional network drops necessary to support the printer?

Does a faster computer containing more memory enable the consultant to process more testing results? If the consultant spends 10% of his time processing, 70% of his time analyzing, and 20% of his time documenting, the answer here is likely no. No, the consultant does not need a faster computer. The point here is to consider whether you as a client have asked yourself the question.

Again, you must be practical here, but the point is important. If a manufacturing line can produce 20 widgets an hour in environment A and 15 widgets an hour in environment B, environment A makes much more sense if the cost is not prohibitive. The problem with consultants is that they are not building easily quantifiable widgets. But they darn sure are costing you much money.

One problem that actually occurs involves the company's various budgets. The preceding printer example might have involved expenditure from an equipment capital budget, whereas the project team has a separate budget. As a client, do not let this kind of red-tape stand in the way of proven science and even common sense.

Hopefully, the point here has inspired some practical thought. Human behavior and employee productivity are corporate issues that happen to apply to consultants as much as they do to employees. The goal is not to see how nice you can make the environment. The goal is to determine how to get the highest level of performance while maintaining solid fiscal responsibility along the way.

Finally, two requirements for the consulting work environment are vital. The consultant will need access to the Internet and ability to communicate via e-mail. E-mail is a necessity for communication both internally to the client and to seek assistance from outside sources. Internet access is required to file Oracle TARs and search Metalink for answers.

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