Daemon thinking
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Daemon thinking

4 things I learned about outsourcing whilst decorating

A few days spent up a ladder during the hottest weekend of the year so far gave me plenty of time to think about the benefits of getting the professionals in.

Last month, my wife decided that we needed to redecorate our stairway. It’s one of the remaining rooms left to decorate since we moved in and was a dull grey with a few marks and stains, so it definitely needed sorting.We decided that we’d get a quote from a professional as I didn’t really have the time or the inclination to decorate another room in the house. The decorator came round at the beginning of May and quoted us for the work. He’d charge us £500 and said it would take him 4 days to do. He could start the week after next.

“Bah! That’s way more than I thought it would be, he’s milking that” I said. “There’s no way it will take that long — I’m not paying that!”.
Look, I’m from Yorkshire OK?

Off to B&Q I went to buy, paint, rollers, brushes and masking tape. I also quickly realised that I needed a new ladder that would work on the stairs, so I found a bargain (there’s a theme developing here) online and ordered it.

I started painting the same week, almost two weeks earlier than the pro would have done. “I’ll have this done in no time” I told my wife.

1. Are you ready to deliver?

I got a few walls done that were within my reach, but we needed the ladder for the rest so things ground to a halt. Ten days later, the ladder arrived (thanks Hermes!) and by this time, we had various things planned for our spare time so the decorating took a back seat.

I’ve seen this happen many times in organisations I’ve worked with in the past and I’m sure I’ll see it many times in the future. A project is kicked off quickly, with a heap of enthusiasm and energy but without everything needed to deliver it successfully in place.

A team is assigned to deliver the project, but maybe they don’t have experience or expertise in house, so they need to go and hire. This takes time to find the right people, hire and onboard them. As well as hiring, the team is also spread across other projects and ongoing support work. Huge amounts of time and effort is then wasted context switching between the streams of work and it becomes really hard to keep the team focused and motivated. It also becomes impossible to predict when the new project will be delivered.

Outsourcing the project to a consultancy partner means you can utilise their expertise and experience, keep your team focused and motivated and get some certainty around deliverables.

2. Consider the opportunity cost of not outsourcing

After the ladder delay, I decided that I’d get back on track and get the painting done over this bank holiday weekend. As it turns out, the weather this weekend was the best we’ve had all year and I spent it inside painting walls.

“What else could I have done this weekend instead of painting?” I thought. “I could have spent quality time with my family. I could have worked on my goal to break 100 at the golf course. I could have switched off properly and enjoyed some time off work.” Instead, I was painting walls, quite literally watching paint dry.

In my experience working with major organisations, they understand that the opportunity cost of not outsourcing work can be huge. What other value could your team be adding to your business alongside the outsourced work? Is there work more suited for your internal team that isn’t as easy to outsource? What would it mean to your business if you deliver both pieces in the same timeframe.

3. Hiring experts means hiring experience.

Halfway through painting one of the walls, a lovely bubble appeared. I’ve painted a few walls in my time but have never seen this happen before. I did what anyone else would have done…I popped it! I had no idea if that was a good or bad thing to do, but I did it.

The paint bubble; before and after!

As it turns out, it probably wasn’t the best thing to do, as you can see.

A quick google search led me to “Bubbling Paint: 5 Potential Causes and How to Fix Each One”, which gave me five possible causes and five possible steps to prevent it from happening. The problem is, I don’t know which one of the five things caused it and it’s already happened!

You know who wouldn’t have this problem? The professional decorator.

He have known how to prep the walls properly and what to do if it did happen. He certainly wouldn’t have popped it like a child with a piece of bubble wrap. Included in his fee was not only his time and effort, but years of experience in dealing with such situations, which in hindsight would have been very handy. I might have even learned from him why it happened and how to prevent it happening in future.

4. Outsource the work, outsource the risk.

Standing on top of my shiny new ladders at the top of my stairs, it suddenly dawned on me that it was a long way down. If I were to fall, it’s definitely going to be at least one broken bone (if I’m lucky!) which would mean my plans for this summer go up in smoke! My goal to break 100 at golf, our walking holidays in the UK that we have planned, or simply driving my daughter around to see family would all be impossible with a broken leg.

However, if we’d hired the pro, it would be him up the ladder at the top of the stairs and his plans for the summer at risk. Except of course he knows what he’s doing and does it all the time, so the risk is minimal. So who’s more likely to fall off the ladder, the professional decorator who spends half his working week at the top of one, or me, the guy with a dodgy knee and a slight apprehension of heights?

In a professional setting, outsourcing a project to a professional consultancy means you shift the risk too. In my 11+ years of experience, I can’t think of one project that I’ve worked on that has gone completely as planned. We use Agile practices for a reason! The devil is always in the detail and by outsourcing the work to a third party it’s their responsibility to deliver it and shoulder the risk if anything unexpected or unforeseen occurs.

DIY SOS

I’m writing this on Bank Holiday Monday, reflecting on my shortsighted decision to do the decorating myself. My penny pinching, DIY inner self has learned some valuable lessons.

I’ve just finished the first coat of paint on all of the walls, which has taken much longer than I thought it would. I definitely underestimated how tricky it would be to reach all the spaces above the stairs as well as the sheer volume of the actual walls that need painting.

The professional decorator would have finished 2 weeks ago and although it would have cost me more, it would be finished by now and I would have just had a great weekend doing something fun and I’d be feeling refreshed and ready to go this week.

Let’s have a look at that professional price again for the pro.
£500 for 4 days.
£125 per day.
Approximately £15/hour.

I spent £70 on a new ladder, and almost that again on the other tools and bits I needed, plus an unknown number of hours spent ‘doing the work’. I’ve risked life and limb with some questionable ladder placement and there’s even a spot I can’t reach despite a new ladder and roller on the longest pole I own.

We’re gonna need a longer stick

The worst thing is, I’ve still got to do it all again for the second coat of paint. Does anyone have a number for a decorator? I’ll pay good money…

Nathan Webster is a Principal Consultant at Dae.mn

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