The cliche goes: “Fail to plan, and you plan to fail.” I recently have had a unique opportunity to use both good and not-so-good planning in my role as a technology consultant.
A bit of background if you haven’t read my other posts. I work day shift as an LII desktop tech for a medium-sized corporation. In my spare time I consult for local small businesses, helping them plan, implement, and maintain their IT systems. I have a relatively selective client base that mainly divides up between 1) malware and performance issues for individuals, and 2) small business IT services for several local firms.
Two of my major clients are realty offices, each employing several sales professionals as well as ancillary staff (real estate lawyer, receptionist, etc). In fact, they are direct competitors in our small-town real estate market, and I rather enjoy seeing them work hard to ‘outdo’ each other. In the course of their battle for market share, they both decided that a new location would serve better.
Client 1 has a wireless/wired network with some 20 data jacks throughout the small office (as many as 4 in one 12×16 office!). They use a LAN-enabled printer and have a special-use computer acting as a file server.
Client 2 has a wireless only network – the exceptions being a printer and the receptionist’s PC (physically located at the router). Everything else is wireless because they primarily use laptops. They share files on the receptionist’s PC.
Oh, the joys of zero-config wireless. I spent a mere hour onsite setting up Client 2. Of course, I have worked on their systems before and made sure that their file/print sharing was working cleanly. I also had a little bit more time into that project due to the pre-project meeting for a total 1.5 hours charged.
Client 1, however, I invested some three or four hours in over the course of a week. Patch cables had not been ordered (this is my fault) because we had not discussed the network’s physical setup thoroughly enough prior to the move. In addition, we almost bought a new switch for them due to the fact they didn’t know they had a 24-port sitting in the basement of the old building. We ordered the cables (rather pricey due to how many jacks they had installed) and I installed and configured the network.
Here’s my analysis of my planning. Poor planning on my part caused the wait time for Client 2, but the difference is small when it comes to the final time charged (I might have saved a half hour if I hadn’t made that mistake). Still, I need to learn from that. The other factors in this situation mostly involved the owner not being organized about what was wanted beforehand (again, I could have proactively helped that), and asking me to fix PCs when I was there to help them move (let’s focus on one issue at a time!). I do enjoy working with that client, but it gave me a heads-up that I need to plan better and be more assertive with that particular client.
So then a few months later I move Client 2. He knew exactly what he wanted. This was such a big plus. He worked with the telco to make sure the needed jacks were hot prior to my arrival. Our short planning meeting was to the point and productive. When I got there the day of the move, there was little extraneous work to be done other than get the receptionist’s desk put together so I could put the monitor on it. Everything went together without a hitch. Set up computer, test printing and network, then test laptops on the network. There was a small additional piece of work – to set up network printing for a user that had not previously used the workgroup printer. However, this did fit with the scope of the project since network printing was a big part of testing the new setup.
I would point out that I am not entirely sure about Client 2’s decision (made independent of me) to only have 2 network jacks in his entire suite (large main room plus two side offices). The building’s physical setup is such that installing new jacks would not be difficult, but I would have put two jacks in each room anyhow. But we’ll see as time goes on – he’s certainly future-minded with using a primarily wireless network.
My takeaway? As a consultant, make sure I know not only the network’s logical topology, but the physical topology as well. Plan the planning meetings ahead of time so that I know what I’m looking for. Make sure to stick to the scope of the project at hand, and defer noncritical tech support requests until after the project itself is finished. And educate my clients where appropriate so that they can more fully communicate their needs. We’re here for them, after all.