February 29, 2020

A client perspective on hourly billing

Sent by Jonathan Stark on February 29th, 2020

Something about the last couple of messages has triggered a small influx of replies from folks who have experience PAYING for services by the hour.

Spoiler alert: They hate it.

Here’s a classic example (name withheld by request):

Hey Jonathan, Can I just whine about how bad hourly billing is for the client as well? The two maintenance guys who fix (...“fix”) stuff in my apartment building are paid by the hour. Both of them show up for jobs that definitely only require one person; one of them sits around and watches while the other does work as slowly as possible They don’t bring equipment that’s likely to be necessary for the job they’re doing, so they “have to” go buy or find very basic supplies or parts in the middle of a job They break stuff, or don’t fix it properly the first time, so they get called in again (and they love being called about an urgent problem after hours, so they get overtime) Per project pricing or similar models would have meant these gentlemen would have had no reason not to fix my dripping faucet in twenty minutes over one visit, rather than eight hours over three visits, spaced across seven months. (I wish I were making this up. I also wish I’d just ignored my landlord’s injunction not to fix it myself.) Honestly, at this point, if I ran across a handyman service that priced per project, I’d be more willing to hire and pay them myself than call maintenance, just for the fact that I’d know they wouldn’t do this.

Yes, in this example the “gentlemen” appear to be purposely stretching things out to pad their hours.

I’m sure none of the fine folks here on the list who bill by the hour do this sort of thing.

At least not on purpose.

If you get paid more when something takes you longer, then there is no real financial incentive to come up with novel ways to accomplish objectives more quickly.

So it’s not that hourly billers drag their feet, it’s that they never invent a bicycle.