Archive: The Chaos of Choice – September 30, 2005

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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When you are starting a new project or pitching a new client, do you ever feel overwhelmed by the choices available? I know it cannot just be me, so at the risk of surrendering my computer consultant badge for all time, I am going to make some very personal confessions. Lately I have found it horribly confusing to decide which hardware, which software, which server, which printer to recommend to all my varying clients. At times, it seems to absorb much more time than I think it should. Still, projects seem to turn out for the best, even if my initial thoughts are a bit confused.

Choice above all else

I know, for Americans, choice is considered a fundamental right. Not only do we deserve the right to choose, but we also deserve the largest number of choices possible. If I want a vanilla ice cream cone, made with chocolate ice cream, I should be able to get it. While that is a ludicrous example, there is a grain of truth within. In today’s high-tech market, consumers are often given choices that, in the end, really don’t make a lot of sense. Still, for most people, it is the quantity of choices, not the quality that make them happiest.

Of course, such a bounty of choices leaves me staggered sometimes. Not only do you have to make the big choices, Mac vs. PC, Windows vs. Linux, you also have to make the smaller choices, 120 GB hard disk or 360 GB, 1 GB of RAM or 512MB, the blue one or the pink one. The choices provided are almost that ludicrous, at times. Still, we all have to make a decision eventually, so even though you might have misgivings and wonder if you have made the right choice, you do have to make it. There are ways, though, to help you make better decisions among the choices you have.

From the outside, in

So, how do you start weeding out the choices for your project? First, you have to have as much information as possible from your client. What type of work do they do? How many people do they have? How much data do they store? All the usual questions, and more. Dig a little deeper. Do they have a preferred vendor? Do they have a preferred manufacturer? Do they want it to be red, blue or pink? Sometimes clients have had dealings with vendors and manufacturers that have left them cold. You don’t necessarily want to recommend a vendor, only to bring up bad memories.

Once you have learned all you can from you client, turn to your collection of high-tech peers and get their input. It is rare I make any major recommendation or purchase for a client until I run it by my friend and colleague, Sam. Sam not only is a high-tech expert, he also has something I am sorely lacking, experience in sales. Whenever I find myself overwhelmed by the “chaos of choice” a quick email, IM or phone call can usually get me back on track. Where I might have to create a small spreadsheet to compare features and prices, he can quickly rule out entire product lines with his insight. If you don’t have an advisory board of peers that you can turn to at a moment’s notice, start building one today. You will find that while someone else may be an advisor to you on one particular issue, you can often provide the same services for them on some other topic. This isn’t a one way street. Everyone benefits.

Hopefully, your advisory board will pare down the choices to a more manageable level. Then you can turn to various online resources such as review web sites, user forums and such to give you more insight into your, now more limited, choices. For me, it makes little sense to start doing Google searches or looking at vendor web sites until I have a more manageable list of choices. Without a smaller area of focus, online tools just lead me deeper into the chaos.

If you find yourself a bit confused when trying to specify equipment and software, you aren’t alone. Everyone, from the newly-minted IT staffer, to the grizzled tech consultant can find themselves mired in the chaos of choice. The best way to resolve this confusion, though, is to work from the outside in, hacking the choices down to a manageable size and then whittling these possibilities down to a perfect match for you and your client.

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