Geo Week News

March 9, 2015

Are You Proficient? Or Just Capable?

brain scan

It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten up on my soapbox about something, so I guess I’m due! What, might you ask, has me going this week? To be honest, it’s a long list but let’s start at the top: Our inability to tell the difference between being capable and being proficient.

Lest I be accused of casting the first stone at another, I’ll start with myself. Recently, a client asked me to render an image of a point cloud a couple of months ago. No modeling, no heavy computational stuff, just a simple rendered image for print. I agreed. It’s a little outside of our normal thing, but I rendered most of the images hanging in my office so I knew I was capable. Turns out this was to be a large image—a really large image. As in 25ft x 10ft (7.6m x 3m). Still, I considered myself capable of doing it. I simply multiplied my processing time from previous renders and assumed it could be done in about 8 hours. Several computer crashes, angry client calls, and some 30 hours later, I determined I was capable of rendering the image, but was nowhere near proficient when I took on the task.

This distinction is important because we are all confusing these ideas every day, and because we have all been victim to other people who are confusing them. As scanning and 3D imaging continue to move into new verticals, we are all being asked to use our hardware, software, personnel, and skillsets in ways that we have not yet tried and therefore are not yet proficient. That is a good thing. I love that part of my job above most others. However, I think we have to find a way to inform the client so that no one is caught off guard if/when things stray off-course.

For instance, I demo a lot of equipment for potential clients. Often, they are looking at a use-case that differs (sometimes dramatically) from the manufacturer’s intentions when said hardware was designed. When possible, I will do these at my own expense but there are times when logistical concerns require a fee to be assessed for the demo. Already, we have a problem of language. What we are now calling this (demo, paid demo, proof of concept, pilot project, etc.) will have a great deal to do with how the client perceives the success of the entire venture. Once again it all comes back to capability vs. proficiency.

If the hardware is not capable then I say so and we stop wasting each other’s time. However, we may try something that does not match the expected capability parameters or is not proficient enough to be marketable and things can get sticky. People do not like to pay for less than they expected. However, a pilot project that proves a methodology unsound is by definition successful in that you didn’t waste time/money/reputation on an implementation that was bound to fail (this is the point of a Pilot Project). If you can’t honestly profess proficiency, you need to define everything else. If you don’t get this concept across to your client and precisely define (in writing) the parameters of whatever you are doing and the possible outcomes you are setting yourself up for failure, even when the project is a “success”. Trust me on this one…

Lastly, there is the point of view of those sending out Requests for Proposals (RFPs). I get a call from some client every week asking for help parsing an RFP and submitting a bid. Aside from some horrific RFP writing (perhaps a topic for another time) I am constantly surprised at how often the question of capability vs. proficiency is ignored. We’ve all been in situations where there are multiple bids, all are within $2500 of each other on a six figure proposal and one guy comes in at 1/3 the cost of everyone else. Guess who gets the job?! Guess who often comes back for more money or doesn’t deliver on time? Guess who gives the industry as a whole a black eye? The capable guy, not the proficient ones.

(In the interest of fairness, I have also seen these situations work out to the satisfaction of all involved. I’ve also seen them cause companies to go bankrupt. Sometimes the client is simply a cheap SOB and nothing else matters to him!)

There are methods to combat this. Many municipalities have closed bids or systems that throw out the high and low bids before consideration begins. They have their problems as well. We’ve all seen Big Boy Engineering win a job over Little Guy Startup where the client ended up paying more for less. But I implore all of you receiving bids to look at the portfolios of these service providers. We’re all capable of scanning most anything. We all know that there are certain projects/markets/skills that others in the industry are more proficient at completing than we are. We all want scanning and 3D imaging to become the standard across the board and helping clients find this Golden Mean between cost and proficiency would seem to me to be a necessary component.  

This is not a call to abandon new applications or marketing verticals! If I had the rendering project to do over again, I would still take it. I just hope I would have the guts to be honest with the client and my own staff so that if/when things go astray, we are all prepared for it and have the ability to plot a new course without losing a client in the process

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