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$500 an Hour to Do Nothing

July 11, 2013

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Doug, can you send me an updated copy of the directory?


Okay. . .

The security guys haven’t sent it over yet.

Did you tell them that we are dead in the water until we get it?

Yeah. They said the same thing as yesterday. ‘We’re busy and we’ll get to it as soon as possible.’

Doug and I were onsite in Fargo, ND (You Don’t Get To Pick Anymore) migrating MeritCare hospitals from Microsoft Exchange 5.5 to Novell GroupWise. This was the largest Exchange to GroupWise migration that had ever been attempted to this point, about 6,800 accounts.

Doug was a Novell employee, but I was a contractor. This was many years after my first foray into consulting (Setting Consulting Rates.) I’d spent nearly a decade at Microsoft writing training materials for Microsoft Exchange. I’d gained a lot of experience and my rates reflected that. Because I was a world expert on email migrations, I was able to command a rate of $150 / hour. But, like I had in my first consulting gig, I was subcontracting. This time through Novell.

Novell marked up my rates and was charging the customer $250 / hour for my time. They were charging the same amount for Doug’s time. If you know that someone is paying $250 / hour for you to be somewhere, you try to make sure that you don’t waste your time (and their money.)

And that was the problem we faced. Doug was the directory expert. He was supposed to hand me lists of users. But, the project was eight month long. The company continued to add and remove names. We had to constantly get updated lists. The problem was, Doug didn’t have access to MeritCare’s directories. We had to rely on their IT Security department to provide us with the lists, and they weren’t doing it.

It wasn’t like we sprang this request on them. We were currently in a one-week-on-site, one-week-off-site schedule. When we set the schedule months earlier, we called out these directory updates as a MeritCare deliverable. When we’d left 10 days earlier, we’d reminded them that we needed the files at the beginning of the week. When we’d arrived Monday morning we’d asked for the files. It was now Tuesday afternoon and we were still waiting.

I’ve got nothing I can work on until we get those names. You?


Clearly it was time to escalate. I really try to avoid escalating issues, if I can. I’d much rather resolve the issue. If you kick it upstairs it does three things; one good and two bad.

1) You typically get whatever it is you need (good)
2) You look less effective (bad)
3) You risk alienating people who’s help you may need later (very bad)

But, we’d already wasted two days and it didn’t look like we were any closer than when we’d arrived. We went to see Clint. He was the one who signed the checks.

Clint, can we talk to you a minute?

What’s up?

We’ve got a problem. You remember that we told you we needed the updated directory lists this week?


Well, we talked to the Security guys a couple of times already and we still don’t have them. We can’t in good conscious sit around at $500 per hour. So, if we can’t get them this afternoon, we’re gonna catch an early flight on Wednesday. There’s really nothing for us to do here until we get those files.

I see. I’ll see what I can do.

Clint was clearly not happy, but he was also clearly not unhappy with us. We got an email at the end of the day.

It does not look like we'll be able to get the directory lists with enough time left in the week to make it worthwhile. I'll personally make sure they are waiting when you get back in two weeks. Sorry for wasting your time.


When we got back in two weeks there was a different guy working in IT Security and updated files were waiting for us. When you are making $500 / hour, people listen when you say you’ve got nothing to do.

This week I’m writing some of my experiences with consulting. Earlier this week I talked about how consulting is like Feasting on Brownies. . .Every Three Weeks. I also explained Setting Consulting Rates. Yesterday I related the time we Billed 25 Hours In a Day (And Why That’s a Bad Thing.) Tomorrow, I’ll stay with MeritCare and describe the Fire, Flood and Famine, during our migration weekend.

About the Author
Rodney M Bliss is a blogger, author and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah with his lovely wife and 13 children.

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