Saturday, November 24, 2007

Managing Customers

This is an older post from my personal blog before I started working on this one. Enjoy...

In a previous post I was complaining about overtime. How our customer was being unreasonable and we saw no end in sight when it came to getting out of this mess. Today was pretty good learning experience for me as things took a turn for the better. In retrospect I realize how our initial approach to dealing with this difficult situation was incorrect because our team was taking the "NO WAY JOSE" position. the original conversation went down like this...

Customer: We would like to complete 6 points in the last 4 days of the iteration, plus deal with any functional bugs after the QA release
NWJ: That is impossible, our ideal capacity is 4 and there is no way we can do it
Customer: By our calculations we can do it if we work overtime for the rest of this week
NWJ: That is again if we were calculating using ideal capacity. There are too many unknown factors here we need some buffer!
Customer: Well I am afraid that we need to meet this hard deadline, there is no way to push back.
NWJ: (sigh) We will try.

We then proceeded to complain every chance we could. The team produced less and less everyday! In comes our managing principles with amazing Jedi mind tricks! I sat in on a meeting and observed the owner of our company open up the lines of communication and helping our customer realize that the answer to "meeting deadlines" was not to increase the number of hours that we work.

Our team presented a list of solutions, not objections, that would help the customer revisit the tasks related to our stories:
  • We presented what we felt was our ideal capacity (6 developers * 9 hr * 4 days = 216 hrs)
  • We then identified possible tasks/features/stories that could wait until the next iteration (70 hrs)
  • Subtract the number of ideal hours that were deferred are then reduced from the ideal capacity (146 hrs)
That sort of left us with something we could work with. If ideally we could complete 146 task hours working overtime for 4 days, that leaves us with 70 hrs of buffer!

That's great, but what about working overtime? Well, we used our new "estimate" set out a goal to stop working overtime and as long as we can meet the minimal functionality we are able to add value immediately and that is a win... The customer agreed! Amazing. I have not seen that sort of wizardry since my days working with Peter Brannigan, one of the most amazing customer managers I have ever known. How could we have overlooked this simple solution? Sometimes we are so caught up in our survival needs we never get to a point of self actualization...

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