5 Things I Learned From David Maister About Trust & Advising Clients

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If you’re a freelancer, consultant, or service provider of any kind, you can surely gain a lot from reading David Maister’s book The Trusted Advisor. There are so many ways we can improve, let’s take a look.

1. Consider Traits of People You Trust Already

It may not come naturally to put yourself in your clients shoes. But you can surely stand in your own shoes. So consider what traits the people you put your trust in have…

o don’t panic or get too emotional
o understand us without a terrible effort
o correct us & criticize gently
o are on our side & have our interests at heart
o don’t try to force things on us
o feel we can depend on them
o help us separate our logic from emotions
o remember the things we have said
o help us put our issues in context
o always provide fresh perspectives

Right out of the gates, Trusted Advisor is offering us some of those very characteristics. The first chapter alone is worth the purchase price.

Also: Why AWS Summit Is Free & Oracle World is $2650

2. There’s An Equation For Trust

It may sound surprising to consider a calculation for trust. Let’s take a look.

Trustworthiness = (credibility + reliability + intimacy) / self-orientation

These are all words we know well, but to truly understand them, Maister lays them out very nicely for us. He takes an interesting approach. Our credibility is the words we use, as we describe what we’ve done. Reliability is the actions we take, arriving on time, doing what we promised to do, delivering etc. Intimacy is about emotions, empathizing with your clients needs. And lastly Self-orientation, which may be the toughest one, which involves putting your client first.

He then turns it all on it’s head. How are people have have poor marks in one of those areas characterized? Poor marks in credibility, a windbag, who is all talk. Low score in reliability, that person is irresponsible. How about bad marks in intimacy, they are thought of as technicians. Ouch! And how about if you score badly in self-orientation, devious is your cross to bear.

Read this: Why Scalability Is Big Business

3. Your Client May Not Want Your Advice

“One of the biggest mistakes that advisors make is to think that their client always wants their advice.”

Does that sound counterintuitive? I think as an engineer particularly, that may be hard to wrap your head around. I was just hired, so the client must want my advice and solutions, right?

Ultimately yes, but first they may want someone to listen to them. Listen, understand their position & discuss. Really to empathize with what they’ve been going through. The more you can do that, the more confidence they will have in your solving those problems & be ready for you to take action.

Related: When You Have To Take The Fall

4. What Good Listeners Don’t Do

We’re all trying to be better listeners, at least I hope we are. I’ve seen lots of lists of things listeners do. What about what they don’t do? Let’s turn things on their head.

If we’re a good listener we don’t…
o make judgements or jump to conclusions
o give our ideas first
o interrupt
o respond early
o try solving a problem too quickly
o take calls or text during meeting

We’ve probably all fallen prey to one of these mistakes, so we all have work to do!

Check this: Why AirBNB Didn’t Have to Fail

5. Take Responsibility

You’ve heard the refrain, but it’s not easy to do. Taking ownership means assuming the pain & worries of your client as if they were your own. As I learned in one engagement, sometimes it means taking the fall.

Read: Why devops talent is in short supply

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Why I can’t raise the bar at every firm

Screen-shot-2012-08-02-at-1.28.35-PM

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It may seem counterintuitive. If I am not the best solution provider, why on earth would I highlight it?

I believe by pointing those cases out, I also underline the clients and problems that I’m particularly well suited too, and for which I can really provide value. Read on!

1. People Problems

Sometimes, you’re hired to solve a particular problem which is framed as a technical one. Some process needs to be reworked, recoded or retooled. It’s framed as a technical problem, yet as things unfold the client already has the expertise in-house to solve & write the code. What then?

It may be that the right people aren’t communicating, project managers aren’t seeing the issues, or part of the human systems are gummed up. We can’t raise the technical bar, but we can help getting those folks talking.

I wrote about this before in When You’re Hired to Solve a People Problem.

Also: Why are oil spills & financial instability related to datacenter outages?

2. ORM Usage & Technical Debt

If you’ve read my blog you know I am not very fond of Object Relational Modelers.

I would also argue as Ward Cunningham does so elloquently that technical debt can be a real and pressing problem.

Here we would help identify and frame the problem, though the work of raising the bar technically involves the longer process of retooling & refactoring your code base.

Related: Why database choices are tricky

3. Where Commodity & Offshore Works

Some firms are already making use of odesk or offshoring resources, where you might pay as little as $150/day. If you have a very technical manager or CTO, such a solution may work well for you.

At the other end of the spectrum are the high priced senior consultants from firms like Oracle, Percona or Pythian. Yes they may set you back as much as $3500/day.

In those cases a scalability & performance review may make sense. Here’s how.. Although specialists are necessary, remember to ask yourself Why generalists are better at scaling the web.

We sit in the sweet spot between the two options. With low overhead, our prices are more affordable. At the same time you’re getting a whole lot more than a commodity solution. We’ll communicate in plain language with folks at every technical level. And for many firms that in itself is a value add.

Check this: Does Oracle Aim to Kill MySQL?

4. Existing team did their homework

Believe it or not, I’ve gone into consulting engagements where the existing team has really really done their homework.

In those cases it becomes much harder to raise the bar technically. In those cases I can help when existing team missed something. But more importantly, I can validate a correct setup, or identify technical debt.

Having an outside perspective then, can provide reassurance. As I see ten to fifteen new environments per year, I’ve seen hundreds in the past decade & a half. That’s helpful perspective in itself.

Read: Does Oracle Aim to Kill MySQL?

5. Availability & Uptime Are Already High

I wrote in depth about high availability in the Myth of Five Nines

At the end of the day, availability can only approach perfection, not actually reach it. That’s a property of complex systems. If your uptime is already extremely high, again we can validate your environment, review and provide & summarize findings. But we may not be able to raise the bar.

If that’s you, it’s a good problem to have!

Also: Why AirBNB Didn’t Have to Fail

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Why AWS Summit is free but Oracle World costs $2650

ellison exadata

Attending Oracle World a half dozen times in the past decade, I can say it’s quite an event. All of Moscone center plus local hotels & many streets are taken over to host the event. As an author of Oracle & Open Source on O’Reilly I’ve snagged comped tickets, otherwise the conference would be far out of reach.

Amazon has their AWS Summit, which it turns out is free. What does this highlight about the very different cultures & business models of the two firms?

Join 17,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

1. Two iconic founders

We’re hearing about Jeff Bezos in the news constantly these days. With his purchase of Washington Post, and his huge play in cloud computing with Amazon Web Services, it’s hard to avoid him.

Meanwhile Larry Ellison recedes somewhat into the background. Last I heard he won the America’s Cup Yacht Race, but only after various cheating scandals subsided & a crash besides. But the story of Oracle has always been a wild wild ride.

bezos reinvent

If you’re interested to learn the sordid history of Oracle corp, look no further than Mike Wilson’s The difference between god* and Larry Ellison. Hint: God doesn’t think he’s Larry Ellison.

Also: Why Oracle Won’t Kill MySQL

2. Two billion dollar companies

If you look at the two firms as I did on February 7th 2014, you’ll see their Market Cap’s are close.
ORCL at 167.26b and AMZN 165.83b. Recall though that Amazon has only been around since 1994, while Oracle’s been tormenting us since 1977!

Related: Are SQL Databases Dead?

3. Two sales-heavy conferences

Both companies have conferences. Oracle’s Open World is a week long affair bring countless success stories and case studies, but all vetted carefully to present a strong & compelling marketing message. Less technical, these sessions speak to the high level strengths of the platform and components.

Amazon’s Re:Invent conference though a smaller one-day affair, also uses a similar model. Bring a lot of marketing muscle to bear, and sell sell sell.

They are both wonderful for what they are, but often gloss over the technical details. They understate difficulties, and troubles as well as Implementation challenges and costs too. Though through all this they make great networking events.

Read: Why AirBNB Didn’t Have to Fail

4. Fat margins or Thin?

There are two sort of big models for selling software.

First there is the Oracle model, send in a high profile sales team. Wine & dine the client, sell hard. Win them over, and get ’em on Oracle. Sell them with add-ons, and software lock-in. Once that’s complete it’s too painful to leave Oracle. That’s when you squeeze. Customers may learn too little too late. For customer businesses, shareholders may begin to regret their decision to go with Oracle. Or it may be buried at the bottom of a balance sheet.

One things for sure, shareholders of Oracle surely benefit from Larry’s model. You become a multi-billion dollar industry unto yourself, and even the likes of spinoffs like Salesforce.com and competitors like Workmarket can’t slow you down much.

Amazon’s model is quite different. Here you kill your competitors by squeezing your own margins. Your company culture is about austerity as opposed to exhuberance. And you win by being first to market, and relentless price competition.

Check this: Why High Availability Is So Hard to Achieve

5. Who wins in Bezos’ world? Customers!

An Oracle Openworld package for 2013 would set you back $2650.

AWS Summit is free. That’s right, it will cost you zilch to attend. Contrast this with Oracle World, which besides also being largely a marketing conference that sells to customers, and which is in part funded by marketing budgets, it is by no means free.

Customers win big in the world Bezos is creating.

Check this: Why High Availability Is So Hard to Achieve

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Why Scalability Is Big Business

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Join 16,500 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

1. Complexity Is Growing

Despite automation & the mass migration to the cloud, or perhaps because of it, complexity continues to grow. Back in the dot com era a typical infrastructure included a load balancer, a couple web servers, one oracle database, and that was pretty much it.

Now that has multiplied. Pile on top of that three to five more webservers, a search server, a page cache, an object cache, one or more slave databases and more. You may have a utility server with jenkins for continuous automation, monitoring applications like nagios and cacti, your source code repository and perhaps configuration management like Puppet or Chef.

That’s not only more moving parts, it’s a wider swath of skills and technologies to understand. That’s one reason Generalists Are Better At Scaling The Web.

Also: Are SQL Databases Dead?

2. Developer Mandate: Features

The pressure to build features that can directly be monetized is obvious. Startups especially have the pressure to grow fast and grow now. So security, technical debt, and scalability often take a back seat. What’s more in small scrappy and lean startups, ops sometimes falls on the shoulders of one competent but overworked developer.

Related: Why Oracle Won’t Kill MySQL

3. Startups Growing Pains

With hyper growth, startups can go from 100 customers to millions overnight. That kind of popularity is a good problem to have. But if your app hits a wall and suddenly falls over, everyone is scrambling. The pressure builds, as fear of losing that traction mounts, and heads are put on the chopping block.

Read: AirBNB Didn’t Have To Fail

4. Missing Browse-only Mode & Feature Flags

Ever been browsing for airline tickets, then go to order and get an error? Try again later? If so you’re familiar with a browse-only mode. This is a very powerful addition to any web application but is very often left out. Some mistakenly believe it won’t work for their application, as users will always be changing data.

Ever visited a website that has star ratings, only to find them missing? Or temporarily unable to edit your rating for a piece of content? This amounts to what’s called a feature flag. These powerful switches give operations teams the ability to disable heavy features, while the side is under tremendous load. They can take a huge burden off the shoulders of your servers when you hit that scalability cliff.

Check this: Why I Don’t Work With Recruiters

5. Operations as an afterthought

I outlined some of the top reasons Why Startups Desperately Need Techops. It is a repeating refrain. Priorities of a growing startup often involve taking on technical debt. But if that isn’t managed carefully you’ll run into some of the problems that Ward Cunningham Warns Us About.

Also: 5 Things Are Toxic To Scalability

Get more. Grab our exclusive monthly Scalable Startups. We share tips and special content. Our latest Why I don’t work with recruiters