Why are external consultants considered more expert than local staff?

Last week I was advised to hire an external usability expert for a couple of months.  Now, bruised ego aside, there are several reasons why this is a waste of time and money.

We sell mixed-signal chips – audio, scanner, power management, microphone, touchscreen.  I am responsible for the software which customers use to evaluate our chips and configure them to get the best out of them.  The first version was released about three years ago, after about a year of development.  There were some minor niggles with the interface, but it was good enough to release and get customer feedback.

Almost immediately, the team (that’s me) was diverted onto customer support for the best part of a year.  Since then I have been under pressure to add support for new chip features so that customers can use them and we can actually sell the chips.  There has been a general move to push the grunt-work of calculating coefficients up into the software so that what you actually programme the chip with are a set of magic numbers.  The only way to calculate some of them is actually to simulate part of the chip, which isn’t something we’re going to tell the customers how to do, so the bottom line is that my software has to do these calculations or you can’t use those features.  Those features were key to securing some big design wins last year.

We have also had feedback on the basic interface.  Fundamentally it is sound, but it has some scalability issues with the more complex chips we’ve developed over the last couple of years, and there are a few niggles which range from quirky to annoying.

So I had the following choices:

  1. Provide support for the filters. Business case: enables millions of pounds in revenue.
  2. Clean up the basic interface so that existing users have a slightly better experience.  Business case: er… some users (mainly internal users) have complained a bit.  Improves the perception of the company slightly.

What would you do?

I chose 1.  It has now been suggested we get a usability expert in because I haven’t addressed 2.

Maybe it would be useful to get a usability expert in.  However, a good start would be to get someone allocated to work on it.  The fact that I haven’t done anything about it doesn’t mean I’m unaware of the problem, nor does it mean I have no ideas how to improve matters.  It’s a simple issue of time and priority.  And however many experts you bring in, they won’t solve that.

By the way – if you have UI skills, you could be the person to work on this. We’re hiring.

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