The point is that if we don’t have a real “decision process” then this kind of thinking can never end. Instead, it only ends when it becomes uncomfortable and too ridiculous to continue to ask the question of why can’t we do even more. If we don’t have a way to actually answer this question, then there is no logical reason (only emotional) not to keep pushing to “do a little more.” It can just become a game of chicken and too many organizations I’ve worked with play this game constantly.
Project Management Can Be A Game Of Chicken
We had finished negotiating with our biggest customer on how we were going to support their business this year. We were going to deliver quarterly releases with a 10% increase in functionality. The good news was that they now believed we could do exactly that. In the past our releases were hit and miss in terms of dates and the functionality was just plain buggy.
Somewhere within our customer’s organization, someone got the brilliant idea of challenging us to do even more. Think about it. If we had just gotten a promising but erratic vendor to finally deliver the things we needed when we needed it, why would we then turn around and push them to do even more before they performed successfully for some time?
I heard about it in a very casual way. The account manager “joked” that we are now delivering “quarterly” releases every two months with a 20% increase in functionality? Not being in a joking mood, I responded that that was not going to happen, and if someone actually agreed to that, then they need to go back to the customer with a mea culpa and explain what is possible and what we’ve agreed to do.
Instead, the COO tells me that this is in fact what we’ve agreed to. Good grief! We had just brought the insanity under control and had demonstrated our ability to do so. Now, we just went back into insanity. Why? Because the customer had challenged us. We just said “yeah, we’ll do that!” When does it stop? Why not 100% more functionality every month? If we don’t have a way to make these decisions then failure is pretty much guaranteed. The COO wanted to simply appear as a “can do” person.
Fast forward to a later meeting with this same customer. One slide was a list of “constructive feedback” on our services and products. The top bullet said something like “You are too nice. You should say no when we ask for something you can’t do.” This was because we were now back into chaos, missing our deadlines and promising to succeed by throwing together functionality based upon very little but bravado and being afraid to say no.
Just to compare, we had a similar (unaltered) agreement with our third largest customer that we carried out per agreement and plan. What happened? The customer finally admitted that they could not take so many changes so quickly as it disrupted their business processes too much! People needed to be trained, processes updated and documented etc., and they needed a slower pace. There is no doubt in my mind that our biggest customer would have met with the same results with our initial agreement.
Sometimes customers ask for more, but simply don’t understand what they are asking for. Our job, as project managers or managers in general, is to be able to explain in objective terms why this is not in their or our best interest.
For more on how, see How To Provide An Accurate Quick Estimate
How do you handle a customer’s request for more when you know there is little chance of success?