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Which Kind of Experience Do You Need for Your Next Project?

  • By Robert Bogue
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In this way, product experience is temporal and more difficult to find. It is like finding flowers that are in season. You have only a limited amount of time that the experience is valid, so finding it is more difficult.

Although product experience is preferable, it may not be the be-all-end-all solution that some people make it out to be. It is just one component of experience that may help solve the problem. For instance, why is it that employees or consultants who are just out of college are of lesser value when building an application than a programmer with five years experience, even if the person just out of college knows the product better? The other kinds of experience are an important part of the mix.

Which Experience Is the Best?

One of the questions that typically springs to mind is, that if there are so many types of experience, which is the most important? The answer depends upon the situation that you're in. In some cases, particularly short, clearly defined projects, it's most important for someone to have product experience. In other situations where the problem being solved is an industry-specific problem or one with an industry-specific spin on the problem, it may be most appropriate to have a person with strong industry experience and little or no product experience.

The best mix of experience is the one that will need the least amount of time to come up to speed on what it is that you're doing. Every person you bring in to help will have some sort of a learning curve that they will need to get over. It's a matter of managing the learning curve so that it has the least impact on the overall time and costs for the project.

One good example of this is when an employee leaves a company and comes back as a consultant. The employee who left has a great deal of specific knowledge and experience with the organization even if they don't know the product or technology. If they can learn the product or technology quickly enough, it makes sense to bring them back to work on a new product or technology.

When to Look for Product Experience First

As mentioned above, there are times when looking for product experience is important. Those cases are when you have a reasonable expectation of finding the product experience that directly matches the problem. It's also important that the situation be clearly defined. In other words, it can't require a great deal of industry, department, or technology background that the candidate with product experience may not have.

Finally, you may want to consider that product knowledge is generally the easiest to get—particularly if the candidate has experience with the technology. The longer the project is, the less likely it is that product experience should be your primary factor.

The longer the project is, the more likely it is that it will not be clearly defined—or that the candidate that you select will be asked to do things outside of the initial scope. The more they expand from a single product focus, the more likely that it is that industry experience or departmental experience will be important. These kinds of experience are generally developed over much longer periods of time than required for product experience.

When to Look for Industry or Technology Experience First

Sometimes, the project that you need help with is something that isn't clearly defined yet, or something that you know will be a long term initiative more than a quick one-product-focused assistance. In these cases, you may want to see candidates who have experience with either the industry or the technology involved.

The value of consultants is sometimes their different perspectives on the problems that the organization is facing. Whether the perspective is because the consultant has seen the same problem at another organization or has seen how other industries implement a technology, the value is the different perspective being brought to the problem.

Unlike product knowledge that can be developed fairly quickly, both industry and technology knowledge are developed over a significantly longer period of time. Whereas a product might be mastered in six months, an industry may take 10-20 years to develop experience with. Technologies may take less time, but still more than the time of learning a single product.

Broadening Your Horizons

The initial thought for most professionals when confronted with a problem that they don't have a solution for is to look for a person who can fill the precise need that they've run into. The trick is to develop an awareness that it may make sense to take a step back and evaluate how to find the best person for the overall problem, rather than trying to find a solution to the exact problem that you're seeing now.

Evaluating the global problem as well as the immediate problem allows you to evaluate how clearly you can define the help that you need, and to better understand how much assistance you may need over the entire length of the overall project or initiative.

Good luck on figuring out what experience is most important for your next project.

About the Author

Robert Bogue, MCSE (NT4/W2K), MCSA, A+, Network+, Server+, I-Net+, IT Project+, E-Biz+, CDIA+ has contributed to more than 100 book projects and numerous other publishing projects. He writes on topics from networking and certification to Microsoft applications and business needs. Robert is a strategic consultant for Crowe Chizek in Indianapolis. Some of Robert's more recent books are Mobilize Yourself!: The Microsoft Guide to Mobile Technology, Server+ Training Kit, and MCSA Training Guide (70-218): Managing a Windows 2000 Network. You can reach Robert at Robert.Bogue@CroweChizek.com.

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This article was originally published on October 9, 2002

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