Anyone who’s scouting for third-party services in order to fulfill the needs of their organization would do well to consider the so-called ‘project management triangle’. This is a visual concept that illustrates the need for quality, speed, and cost-effectiveness – and their inherent conflict. You can achieve one or two, but not all three, and usually to the detriment of the others.
The triangle becomes especially informative when weighing the options of amateur work versus the output of a professional; here are the main points of consideration.
You may have contacts that can put you in touch with some talented amateur services at a fraction of the cost. Professionals charge more; sometimes this comes down to a matter of reputation, but may also be due to their use of superior equipment. A professional mechanic working at a repair shop uses an automotive lift to get a better look at car alignment and spot issues that a DIY job could miss. An amateur photographer may take excellent photos under natural lighting conditions, but at an event with indoor or night lighting, more expensive gear such as lenses and off-camera flash will definitely improve the resulting images.
Individual skill, while important, isn’t the only factor that determines the quality of results. Depending on the nature of the service being sought, you may find that going with an amateur option could be either acceptable, or too risky to be worthwhile when results are considered.
Professional contractors treat themselves like a business, because they are – and while this can streamline your dealings with them, it may be hard to beat the availability of an amateur who can jump in and start working on short notice. Yet the implications of having a process can extend well beyond the negotiation aspect. The differences between an amateur and a professional often begin at the basic level, with habits and routines. Professionals put in the practice hours every day, and this discipline tends to create more consistency in terms of output.
For instance, self-taught artists or designers may have an amazing online portfolio, and in this field history abounds with examples, such as Vincent van Gogh or Frida Kahlo, who succeeded with virtually no formal art education; but does your candidate bring the same consistency to every day at work? It’s certainly possible; just remember that high variance can lead to both wild misses and home runs.
Intangibles and deal-breakers
Having drawn the points of comparison between professional and amateur services, and where they might line up with the project management triangle, it’s also necessary to consider some intangibles in the equation. Depending on the nature of the task, you may find that dealing with a contractor isn’t all about expenses, timeliness, or even output quality. More professionals have a sense that managing relationships, provide additional insights, and exploring alternative options to contribute to overall success are a part of the job; an amateur is more likely to deliver only what’s required of their specific skill set. Your mileage may vary with each contractor, but in complex endeavors such as software development, these key intangibles can spell a world of difference.
When choosing between an amateur or professional contractor, rather than making quick decisions based on one or two factors, use these criteria to evaluate your options and their likely relevance to the project in question, so you can make the best decision.