24 Oct How to Identify an Expert Vendor
Whether you are hiring or trying to become an expert, it is important to know how to identify an expert. Meriam Webster defines an expert to be “one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject”. As clear as the definition seems, in practice it is often difficult to know how much knowledge or skill an individual has. The identification of expertise has been attempted through degrees, certifications, and years of experience but are often inconsistent in determining a true expert.
The Best Value Approach (BVA) is a logical approach to business which specializes in the identification and utilization of expertise. The BVA has developed a structural process to assist in the identification of a true expert. Seven indicators of a true expert incorporated into the BVA process will be discussed in this article, namely:
- An expert has done similar projects successfully.
- Experts can see into the future.
- Experts allow non-experts to see into the future.
- Experts do not think or make decisions.
- Expert know and understand the people involved.
- Experts have no risk.
- Experts cost less but profit more.
1. An Expert Has Done Similar Projects Successfully.
One of the safest ways to identify an expert is recursively through their performance. The key to using an expert’s past performance to prove their expertise boils down to similarity. An expert who has built 100 McDonald’s successfully would not necessarily be an expert in building a skyscraper. Experts should demonstrate how their previous performance is comparable to the current specific project. The greater the similarity between the expert’s past performance and the current specific project, the stronger the indication of expertise. In cases where an expert cannot show comparability of previous project performance, there is a greater risk that they are not an expert.
For instance, a few years ago someone tried to get me to buy solar panels for our house in Arizona. One of my main filtering tools was to ask for past successes to prove the company’s expertise. I was interested in past success with houses of similar size, location (preferably in my city), and the actual savings each year (the longer the history the better). After requesting this information, the salesman was unable to provide me with the required evidence. His inability to provide me with this evidence does not necessarily prove to me he was not an expert, but it does prove that I didn’t know if he was an expert and, more importantly, neither did he.
2. Experts Can See into the Future
The quickest way to identify an expert is their ability to see into the future. I will use a simple example of a water bottle. If I were to hold a water bottle in the air and release it 100 times, what percent of the time would it fall downwards? Even before releasing the bottle once, you were able to predict that 100% of the time it would fall downwards. How were you able to do this?
As silly as this example seems, it is a perfect representation of an expert’s mind. The release of a water bottle is a situation where you are an expert. The situation is very simple; you know what a water bottle is, and you know about gravity. It is simple to you because you understand it and are therefore an expert in that situation. When you understand a situation, it consequently means you will see the future of that situation. The more expertise you have in an area, the greater accuracy of your predictions, the less expertise you have, the less accurate your predictions will be. As an individual is asked to look farther into the future, a greater amount of expertise is required. If you receive responses such as “it is impossible to know the future”, “there are too many variables”, “it is too complex”, or “we will only know after we start working”, there is a high possibility that the person you hired is not an expert for your specific project.
3. Experts Allow Non-experts to See into the Future
Because an expert understands a project, it is simple to them. For other people without the knowledge (non-experts) the situation can seem quite complex. A mark of a true expert is their ability to simplify a situation so that those who are non-experts can understand and see into the future, without having to know everything the expert knows. When hiring an expert, it is important to always ask the expert to show you the future in terms of a simple plan. If you are not able to understand the problem, the methods used to solve the problem, and the expected end-result of the project, you may want to verify you have a true expert.
An expert should never ask you to “trust” them because the situation is too complex for you to understand. It is not necessary for you to understand all that the expert understands, but an expert will always make it simple enough so you can understand the problem, the methods used to solve the problem, and the end-result. When projects are simple, and everyone can understand regardless of their expertise, the expert has created transparency. If an expert is unable to relay things to you in a simple, understandable plan, it is an indicator that the person may not be an expert and may not understand the situation themselves.
4. Experts Do Not Think or Make Decisions
To the majority of people thinking and decision-making feel like the natural role of an expert, but when examined on a practical level it is the exact opposite. Referring back to the water bottle example, did you have to think about which direction the bottle would fall when released? Similarly, did you have to make a decision as to which direction the bottle would go? The answer to both questions is hopefully no. This again was because you understood the situation and were an expert in it. The situation was simple to you and was a “no-brainer”. When we have to think about something, it is an indicator that we don’t understand it. When we have to make a decision between multiple options, it is because we don’t have enough information to know the realistic future path based on the current situation. To a completely ignorant person, the bottle may seem like it could go in any direction after being released. However, after understanding the current situation including the bottle and gravity, the many future directions is reduced to one realistic path, downwards.
One of the principal signs that someone is thinking too much is when they ask other people to think and make a decision. An expert should never make someone else think or make a decision. When an expert presents non-experts with information, they will always simplify it so that the least experienced person can understand it. The expert should never bring options to another person (especially non-experts in their area) and ask the them to make a decision. Instead, the expert will always present and explain the best path forward.
5. Experts Know and Understand the People Involved.
For an expert, one of the critical things to understand within a situation are the people involved. The ability to understand people is needed to be an expert in any field, even those which do not directly involve people. Software developers need to understand how their software will work with the end users. Architects need to understand what their clients want. Fast food workers need to know how to interact with customers and their preferences.
Additionally, experts often integrate with other people to complete a task. In a construction project a plumber does not work in isolation, they often need to interact and work with other people such as designers, painters, builders, and inspectors. An expert plumber will know and understand all the other major stakeholders within a project that affect his area of work. It is only then can the expert coordinate schedules and specify what is needed from other stakeholders and when it is needed. Without understanding how the people around them interact with their area of expertise, an expert will not be able to see into the future or create a realistic/accurate plan.
6. Experts Have no Risk
Project risk has been defined by as an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has an effect on at least one project objective. In other words, risk is caused by a non-expert’s inability to see and predict the future. In contrast, experts understand their area of expertise and can predict the future (no uncertainty). Uncertainty in specific areas indicates where an individual is not an expert. Experts will quickly and openly explain what is within their expertise (what they know) and what is outside of their expertise (what they don’t know). Non-experts are unable and often ashamed to identify what they do not know.
An expert’s risk involves areas which are outside of their expertise such as missing information, uncertain information and people. People are generally the greatest risk for a project due to the expert’s inability to control them. Experts are the only ones who can mitigate risk as they are (1) not the source of the risk, (2) are able to identify the risk and (3) are the only ones with the expertise to prevent or minimize the risk’s impact.
7. Experts Cost Less but Profit More
The phrase experts cost less but profit more seems too good to be true, but it is an accurate statement. One of the common lines we hear to justify a high price is that we are “paying more for expertise”. However, you have to ask yourself, if this logically makes sense.
As a client we have a project that we hire an expert to perform. Ultimately, we are hiring an expert to lower our costs and not to increase our costs. Experts are able to see into the future and create an accurate and efficient plan. The experts’ efficiency lowers costs by doing things right the first time (no mistakes), doing things at the most efficient time, and using the lowest costing material which can meet the client’s requirement (zero waste). In other words, experts increase their profit by improving their efficiency and not by increasing their costs.
If a client buys into the idea that expertise increases costs, there are two possibilities. (1) the client is buying into the idea that a non-expert who doesn’t understand and can’t see into the future can perform a project more efficiently than someone who can (an expert). (2) the client is buying an over-qualified supplier, i.e. they are sending a brain surgeon to do a routine surgery. In either situation paying more for “expertise” doesn’t align with the client’s objective to utilize expertise to minimize costs.
Through all the research that has been done within the field of expertise, there are thousands of characteristics and theories as to what makes and expert and how they can be identified. These are some of the simplest indicators which have been used in the Best Value Approach to identify and procure experts within the delivery of services and to manage them through project execution. These simple indicators have been used to identify and utilize experts in various fields from construction, social services, food services, information technology, and healthcare.