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Small Consulting for a Small Agency



Front End Engineer

While on the hunt for full time employment I have begun consulting for an agency local to my area. Mostly. They're 3 hours away and require in-office presence, which is a bit of a painful commute, to be quite honest. This will be the first part in a small series on my ideal structure for an agency of this size in this day and age, as well as the chaos that is COVID on the rise for Round 2.

The Beginning#

We're going to start this off by tracking how it came up in the first place. I've been testing a rather not-so-reliable method of reaching out to connections in my network to offer a proposal of picking up excess contracts or contracts that don't fall under what these agencies handle, in exchange for a commission to them for routing the clients my way. Now, this particular agency I hadn't spoken to yet. I had actually connected with the CEO/President/Owner a couple years back in hopes of building my own network, having an opportunity to share ideas and strategies. She accepted my request, but nothing ever came of it then.

Last week she reached out to me and asked if I was available for work. I said I was, and so we scheduled an interview. The interview was rather short, keeping in mind I was on a lunch break during the middle of training for the call center gig. It was just her and her solo web-dev in the interview. He was a younger guy, obviously had never interviewed someone before, but was friendly and intelligent. Not long into the chat I learn I would essentially be replacing him. All went well and that night she emailed me an offer. Within the base offer was included: the hopes of myself coming in, organizing the bit of chaos that exists and building on strategy to improve work flow and increase client intake. I was set to make the 3 hour drive the following Monday (last week), she would cover my hotel, and I'd be there the full week, the dev's last week before he starts his new career.

With that, I contacted my instructor at the call center, got the information required to ship their equipment back and got ready for this new consultant gig.

In Comes The Mess#

Little did I know, when I was asked to start organizing and creating strategies to improve their work, it would be a much larger, more difficult task met with quite a resistance from the party asking for help than I expected. In short, we've got a business owner with a reluctance to let go of the past and accept the fact that we are moving to a highly tech dependent world, with remote work becoming the norm. Archaic systems are in place, with web designs drawn up in PhotoShop and printed out onto paper to have long, drawn out meetings on the designs, why some things work and others don't, best steps forward, rinse and repeat until approval is granted and the files move on to the developer. Developer in the most singular definition possible.

In one week I have sat through countless meetings lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour and a half. I have sat through time wasted by printed out papers being passed around, written on, passed back, reprinted and so on. Office banter is at an all-time high and actual work done is fairly low. The owner's drive to "reskin and resale" some "software" she thought up that won't stand a chance are at the forefront of bottlenecks in the web dev department. The web developer isn't only a web developer either. They are full stack web development, web application development, system administrator, IT administrator, and much more. The singular web developer is expected to be many different departments and still get products built and shipped in a timely manner.

In one day, we received tasks to troubleshoot tech issues in house, troubleshoot client website issues, back-and-forth meetings on design, systems overviews, and quite frankly, a ton of time spent just bullshitting. When work is done, it's done with a sense of urgency. The second there is a distraction though, any ounce of urgency disipates and long chats follow. The environment is heavily distracting, even with the web dev having an entire upstairs floor to theirself.

All documentation is spread out sporadically through Google Docs and Google Sheets. Project tracking is done through their self-built "router" as they call it. It amounts to a really rigged together, not-so-well made, task tracking application akin to Trello or Monday or Asana or what have you. You're limited to quarter chunks for "time spent" on your route before passing it off to whoever takes over next, giving little to no accuracy in the actual amount of time spent on a route. There's also no clear system for initiating a new website build, no in-house template system to speed the process up, no testing, QA is done by the owner or one of her assistants, none of which are all that tech-savvy. There's an ancient server running as the "dev backup" and maybe, if you're lucky, a site's code is pushed to a repo on BitBucket, and up-to-date. More often than not, all code is kept locally on the now previous dev's machine.

The Plan#

This doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the amount of issues and lack of proper structure they face. The plan this coming week will be to track every little occurence to the second to get a better insight of how days are spent, where time is really going and how it can be improved. When suggesting software to improve workflows, I was met with the backlash of "But I just really like to have that face-to-face interactivity. I don't want them (especially these young ones), just staring at their screens all day." The issues I have with this statement are:

  • We're STILL in the middle of a pandemic. One that is once again on the rise dramatically. Less interaction is better.
  • Meetings don't need to end completely. We just need to streamline some of the processes that should take a couple minutes rather than hours of back-and-forth.

This following week, inbetween meetings with clients and interviews with companies while on my search for a "real job" (as one kind older gentleman from my store management days said to me), I will track the time spent on each task, how often certain tasks come up, how often interruptions occur and for how long, and how many new tasks come up. I will then structure the data collected to present to the owner, along with solutions to improve the issues, and go from there.

Of course this is fairly simplified as I'm just getting to see the ins and outs of their company. Details will follow.

Until next time my dudes.