Keeping Promises To Customers

Its the most natural thing in the world to want to promise things to customers to keep them happy. This blog discusses the dangers of that.

There are a couple of scenario’s I have seen occur many times in my career. Sales and customer teams unintentionally causing harm while wanting to keep customers happy.

Keeping Promises – The Catch 22

There’s a circular downward spiral that can happen:

  1. Teams have trouble meeting customer expectations
  2. To make customers happy they make promises that are hard to keep.
  3. Because those promises were unrealistic, they loop back to step 1.

Its very important promises made to customers are realistic and can be delivered. For Example, If an architect says something will take 20 months to deliver, Its for a reason. A customer team should not agree with the customer to deliver in 12 months, without the solution design being revised.

Its important to re-plan because its most likely not as simple as throwing extra resources into a project or working overtime. Although efficient architecture can make scaling resources for projects a lot more cost effective, often architecture designs aren’t perfect which leads to a cost overhead. There are often dependencies at work. For example if an architect says migrations will take 2 week that estimate may have factored in things such as the amount of data that needs to be migrated and transfer speeds between systems.

If the customer needs to then do things in one week – the architect has to be consulted. It may be possible to meet the deadlines – but, for example, it may mean changes to the solution. Upgrades of hardware would mean extra costs, a different plan, or another mechanism for transferring data. Maybe using disks to transfer rather than over the network is an option. If you change the transfer mechanisms other risks come into play, and the impact on the end user may change.

Somebody Else’s Problem

Sometimes I have seen it where a the delivery team are just not consulted by the front facing sales or customer teams.

People are motivated to meet their own targets, and sometimes targets and goals for individual teams do not factor in a need to work together.

For example, a sales team may have annual sales targets. This can motivate them to make promises without considering the delivery consequence. If you measure and reward a team based on getting customers to sign they will do what it takes to achieve that.

It is a very different case if metrics are put in place to tie together the success of a sales and delivery team.

Adopting A Culture Of Collaboration

If a sales and customer team makes unreasonable promises, it will ultimately cause harm in a few different ways.

  1. Failing to deliver erodes trust; conversely becoming a trusted partner really opens up doors of opportunity.
  2. Putting delivery teams under excess pressure destroys morale – bad morale destroys productivity and you end up with long running projects that have very poor retention of staff. At this point if you don’t have good architecture in place your costs can also skyrocket as unnecessary meetings and fact finding missions start to happen as people need to catch up and be on-boarded onto a project.
  3. Costs also start to balloon because its likely that you end up customizing standard solutions when you don’t need to.

Its very important that sales and customer facing teams collaborate with architects. Don’t forget architects are there to solve problems, not create them. If a sales or delivery team is going to ignore or override what an architect tells them then that’s likely to have consequences.

Summing it up

A good architect designing architecture should be considering the needs of all the stakeholders and identifying risks to the different stakeholders as they happen. They are not there to make the life of the sales or customer team more difficult – although sometimes it can feel like that when they are pointing out lots of potential risks. There are internal risks of course that we do not expose out to customers, but its good to have an honest opinion.

There’s no shame being in a meeting with a customer and saying “I understand your needs, but before I commit to these deadlines I need to talk to my architect team”. There are sometimes times when sales need to agree to things to win a bid – but they should still talk things through with architects. Sometimes seemingly small things can significantly impact the viability of an entire business deal

I will end this blog just mentioning the importance of engaging architects all throughout a project. You do not want to leave architecture to the end of a project.