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Can you recommend ...

Level 13

 

That has to be one of my most feared phrases … “Can you recommend …?” Often the person is actually saying “can you make the buying decision for me?” To which the answer is "no, I can’t make up your mind for you. Would you ask me to choose your car or your house?"

 

The easiest way to keep IT people busy is to lock us in a room until we can agree on the best anti-virus software. 

 

The problem with technology is there is no ‘Best’. There’s only the ‘best for you’. You can be guided to making that decision based on input from others but here’s the thing … that input is going to be coloured by their experience and the experiences of their peers.

 

And as technology grows and the capabilities between different products start to blur, you can start to stare at things that basically do the same thing. So how do you choose? Or how do you recommend what’s truly best for the business, putting personal experience aside? Should you put personal experience aside?

 

Put your hand up if you’ve ever seen a company throw out one software vendor because a new manager has come in and they prefer something else? Exchange versus Lotus Notes. Microsoft versus Google. On premise versus Cloud. Mac vs PC. All of these decisions are influenced by the previous experiences of the decision makers.

 

My tactic is to squeeze as much information out of them as I can about how they work, what they want to achieve etc and then say “Well this is what I’d do if I was you…”  But I can almost guarantee someone else will have a different opinion. They’re like bellybuttons. Everybody’s got one!

 

How do you handle the recommendations question? Do you weigh up all of the available options for them or go on past experience?

 

29 Comments
Jfrazier
Level 18

Raises hand...have been through the changing of the guard and the resulting hardware/software migrations.

I try and weigh a good representable set of solutions and also past experiences.  Many places only pick from the Gartner magic quadrant. I find that as a starting point for the major players with "money/marketshare" although I do not find their evaluations sufficient or in depth.  Again it is a starting place.

ScottRich
Level 12

I usually answer that question with another: "what do you think you want to accomplish?" which is a very different question that "what are you trying to do?" and I think personal experience is as valuable as whatever you will find in white papers or quadrants or wherever else you are looking. Once I have an idea of what they think they want, almost all of my recommendations, if I have one, start with "Well, I like this because ...".

(My favorite question, however, is "what computer should I get?" to which I almost always answer "the pink one". They usually don't ask again.)

mcam
Level 14

the worst kind are those questions that start with "you work in computers don't you...."

I friend gave me a "No I cannot fix your computer" T shirt just for those occasions

Jfrazier
Level 18

When I hear "you work in computers don't you...." my reply is no.. I watch them from a distance which throws off their questioning.  Then while they are trying to figure out what I mean I run away  

deverts
Level 14

I like to lead the conversation down a path. Are the "quadrants" a good starting point, only to list out the participants. Does making a change just because the new manager doesn't know how to use the existing solution, or does the new manager need to be open to training and learning the existing. Is there a viable ROI to make a change? Businesses grow, and solutions must grow along with the business, or be replaced...but not replaced just because the manager doesn't know how to use it.

To the point, lead the "requirement probing" conversation down a path until the person's "light bulb" comes on and they make their own decision. And if that doesn't work, guilt trip them into the correct solution.

D

cahunt
Level 17

The best today may not be the best tomorrow. For proper consideration you have to know the technology and be able to research your topic at least a little bit. And as each solution may not be the right one for you it needs to be considered up until you at least figure out it is not the right fit. When simple history and experience with a single product determine that it is the solution, you tend to lose out on the things you do not know. Extra capabilities of another like software, Faster response, more reliable, etc., etc. are all in the balance when considering solutions. A choice based on a novice experience tends to truncate the possible options for providing service as well as overlook of a more advanced or useful solution.

scuff
Level 13

Did the changing of the guard result in actual, demonstrable business benefits?

scuff
Level 13

That's great - begin with the end in mind!

Don't red ones go faster?

scuff
Level 13

I have exactly the same t-shirt! Strangely it becomes my attire of choice on a Friday around beer o'clock.

scuff
Level 13

Great tactics! It does depend on having a manager who is open to learning or having their mind changed. Often managers new to the org are set on what they've used in the past, which was sooo much better. Of course.

scuff
Level 13

Absolutely. And perhaps we don't lean enough on what other people are doing, e.g. successful competitors?  When business processes (eg making widgets) are similar, there are so many different ways to achieve the same result as far as technology goes .. but do we reinvent the wheel too much?

scuff
Level 13

I love having this conversation from an IT Pro perspective & particularly a systems management perspective. It's different from a sales & marketing perspective (who would be right into pain chains & pain points etc) and different from a developer's perspective too.

Interesting to see more than one person mention Gartner's Magic Quadrants, which I know are held in high esteem by Enterprise CIOs. In the small & medium business (SMB) space, eyes would glaze over at the mention of Gartner.

cahunt
Level 17

too many times, and too often it's not in a good way. Even if everyone used the same process it would not be executed in the same way. To that standard the explanation of being able to stay in business is not related to how good you are at what you do, but how much worse your competitor is. It's a far cry from perfection when expectations are not pushed to the limits but rationalized as being enough just because someone else does not do more, or do it as well.

wfordham
Level 10

I have the same t-shirt too.  Unfortunately, it usually prompts someone to start asking me about their computer problems.

ScottRich
Level 12

The red ones are the fastest, but if I give them good advice right away, they will come back and ask about printers....

mr.e
Level 14

I need to get a T-shirt like that...  I get too many requests for fixing computers...  What's worse, these folks seem to think there's no "real work" involved so they want to the their computers fixes "gratis" aka "at no charge".   

ScottRich
Level 12

Sounds like something they should add to the Thwack store.

tigger2
Level 13

For work related things:

I usually get few if any requirements, asking people for requirements usually goes nowhere OR I get vendor specific features (because they used/had xyz in the past).  I collect what I can for a short while.

Then I make a spreadsheet. Requirements and features on the left side, a separate product in each column at the top. I go to their websites, I pull out as many 'features' as I can find.

Once I start running out of features,  I give each vendor a score and a color based on feature/requirement of "has" = green, "does not have" = red, "has in some way or is added cost" = yellow.

Then I look at all of the colors and get a feel of who has what we want.  I call and schedule a demo with the vendors and validate my colors/assessment, and possibly add more entries/features I did not know about.  I also inquire about licensing costs/models

Once done, at the bottom, I create a score for each vendor.  The scores are based only on the colors in the sheet. There's a "requirements score", and a "features score" and a "cost" score based on possible licensing + purchase costs. I simply give green = 2 points, yellow = 1 and red = 0. Scoring cost is a separate matrix (lots of licensing options usually) just made relative to the cheapest and most expensive options given (top ~25% most expensive option= red, etc).  I don't factor in any discounts that "could" be made.

I calculate a percentage of each score based on "total points possible".  Then I perform a write up of all the reasons xyz vendors didn't make the cut, then all the reasons vendors a,b, and c should be considered.  If there's a tie for "best fit" (usually) we go with whatever everyone's already used in the past .

For extended family:

I either feign ignorance or just clearly indicate "I don't know but I read that..." to everything.  I try to get them to make the decision to narrow it down and then I'll help give a lit of pros/cons of each of the options they chose.  It's actually really hard and time intensive.  I almost always tell them to not hurry to buy anything until they're happy with the decision.

For spouse:

I recommend the most sensible option based on many factors and start making.... this certain spreadsheet. We then buy with the most expensive option before the spreadsheet has been finished, usually within 24 hours.

For personal:

I make this spreadsheet.....

mr.e
Level 14

crue-772365.gif

rodgarlington
Level 8

Usually I get the "You work with computers, right? Can you get me a free copy of MS Office/Photoshop?"

wfordham
Level 10

This is where mine came from:

http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/388b/

jkump
Level 15

The scariest phrase from our profession  "Can you recommend"  For personal/consumer use, I spent six years in retail operations and had to deal with lots and lots of consumers.  I used to always ask the question "What do you want to use a computer for?"  Now, since most hardware is uniform, I always tell people to let me know the budget amount and then I give the options.  However, I always caveat it with -- "You need to actually touch and feel the brands to see what the screen looks like, what the keys feel like, and weight".  They usually go to a store where similar models and brands are on display.  That way they can touch the keys, use the trackpad, check out the display, etc.

For business projects, I have spent time with Subject Matter Experts trying to keep personal bias out of solutions and simply evaluate products that solve the projects needs.

I think these kinds of posts are great in that you have to think "big picture". 

superfly99
Level 17

Totally agree. I've been working at the same place for just over 20 years and I each time a new manager comes along, new directions (and software and hardware) come along with it too. I hate to think how much money has been wasting on infrastructure that has been thrown out because something else was preferred. I've even seen equipment being purchased and then never installed due to change of plan. If only this money was added to my wage, I'd be a pretty happy chappy.

And I don't get the "can you recommend a pc" question from outside work much anymore. I just say that I don't buy computers, I just use the ones I'm given

scuff
Level 13

lol why do they think we get this stuff for free?!?

scuff
Level 13

It's rare to see innovation in a 'standard' business, agreed, and by that I mean a business who hasn't developed an innovative product or service, but an innovative way of making or delivering a standard product or service. Yet the possibilities are endless!

scuff
Level 13

Wow, thanks for sharing your process! And I think I like your spouse.

scuff
Level 13

I wish more computer store retailers had staff like you! I've shuddered at some of the misinformation being given to the public.

And I'm glad you like these posts. I was a little worried they might not be technical enough, but we've had some great discussions so far about topics related to how & why we do the work we do. That's also a bit of a hint for a future post this month.

scuff
Level 13

I feel your pain! It's totally frustrating and yet nearly impossible to get some people to see it, when their decision making is already skewed heavily to one solution or another.

tigger2
Level 13

For what it's worth: She rarely regrets her purchases.  I occasionally regret my own and my recommendations to others.  Maybe if I added a few more columns to my spreadsheet....?