IT projects are very complex. Their success depends on a wide range of factors including planning, requirements, communication, relationships, and more. When all is said and done, what is it that makes a customer happy with their provider? At a financial level, the customer will be happy if the project comes in under budget, right? They’ve got to be happy if you deliver more functionality than they expected. What about delivering before the deadline? If you can consistently deliver in all three of these areas, stop reading this article and go publish a book, because you are doing something that the vast majority of the IT industry has failed at over the past several decades.
Of course, those end results make customers happy, but what we’re talking about is a day-by-day relationship with clients where they have confidence in us as technology service providers. Where they trust us when we tell them a certain task will take so many hours. Where they will believe us when we tell them option Y is the best solution. That level of relationship is not easily come by. Rather, it is earned over a period of solid performance and delivery.
You may be thinking the key to success is hard work. You may be thinking the secret is having the smartest techs on staff, or you may be thinking the secret is … best project management, lowest costs, customer service, etc. These are all good things that a strong technology company should have, but are they really the key factors that build that solid, trusting relationship with clients? There’s a little more to it.
So, what is the secret behind customer happiness? It’s not magic. In fact, you’ll be surprised by how simple it is. Two simple truths.
They are: Get Things Done and Do What You Say.
Unfortunately, these simple truths can be so hard to put into practice.
Get Things Done
What does this mean? You work hard every day. You get things done. This is easy, right? What we mean here is completing tasks. Completing meaning done, delivered, finito.
I have seen so many hard-working IT professionals in my career that put in the extra hours. They worked weekends and almost never left the keyboard. Unfortunately, they couldn’t cross the finish line. I find a significant percentage of technologist suffer from this malady. Is it a lack of focus? Laziness? Incompetence? In my experience, the number of people who really can bring complex tasks to closure is fewer than you might guess. In a previous job at a software consulting firm, we actually classified our development staff into two buckets: closers and non-closers. Closers were the ones who could complete a project to sign-off. We found that if we did not assign at least one closer to a project, the project was doomed to linger in the dreaded “almost done” phase. We had more non-closers on the staff than closers, and this was a real problem.
Software developer and author Joel Spolsky wrote an excellent book on hiring technologists called ”Smart & Gets Things Done”. During his career as a technology business owner, he realized that hiring smart people wasn’t enough; he needed to hire smart people that could get the job done.
You may be wondering, why aren’t more people closers? Or, how do I become a closer? Again, the answer is simple, but following through can be hard. I think that closers see projects a little differently than non-closers:
- They see the project with a clear finish line and are constantly considering the steps it will take to cross that finish line.
- They understand that effort does not equal progress. For example, they judge progress on what they have completed, not on the hours they have worked.
- They focus on completion. They don’t like loose ends, but are not perfectionists.
- They don’t let themselves get side-tracked on a multitude of tasks. They complete a task and then move on to the next task, rather than trying work too many tasks at one time.
Follow these steps, and you just may find yourself becoming a closer too! Clients are far less concerned with the blood, sweat, and tears that we put into our work than they are about us delivering on time and budget commitments.
Do What You Say
It’s another maxim that sounds simple, but consistent follow-through can be much harder. How many times have you told a client you would get something done by a certain date and failed to hit that date? Reflect. Think hard. It may be more times than you’d care to admit.
Every time we tell a client we will do something by a certain date, then miss that date, we lose trust. This includes minor administrative tasks, such as making phone calls or sending emails, as well as major deliverables. Whenever you a give a date, or agree to one, you must consider that a commitment. You may be thinking, “I probably can do it by that date”, but the customer hears a date and is thinking, “That will absolutely be done by that date”. If you get to the point where the customer is thinking, “They gave me this date, but they never get it done when they say they will”, you have lost the role of the expert on the engagement.
We’ve got to treat our word as a contract. So often, I hear technologists give out dates, or agree to dates proposed by clients and/or management. Don’t do it! When we concede to a deadline and don’t deliver by that date, everyone sees it as our failure, not the people that pressured us to agree to it in the first place. Be careful when estimating a delivery date – even for the smallest tasks. Every time we don’t hit a verbal commitment to deliver, we erode client trust and confidence.
Does this mean never missing a time commitment again? No. Unexpected things come up and clients will generally understand that. However, continually missed deadlines eventually put the client into a position where they can’t depend on a technologist’s estimated delivery dates.
Here are some key factors you can use to better keep your commitments:
- Treat every commitment as a contract. Even very small ones like, “I’ll call you back this afternoon”.
- Don’t be pressured into agreeing to dates that you don’t feel comfortable with.
- Give yourself some buffer. Consider that everything may not go as you think it might. Issues/blockers will happen.
- You can’t make all of your commitments – extenuating circumstances arise – but don’t let that be an easy excuse to constantly underperform.
Be careful what you commit to, and, when you do commit, make sure to deliver. It’s professional, and it’s what the customer expects.
The world of technology is exciting, but engagements can be very complex. BlueGranite's success has been built on our clients knowing we deliver what we promise. Get Things Done and Do What You Say – consistency in these two areas, for every client interaction, is a surefire way to a lasting client relationship founded on trust.
Want to know more about how BlueGranite can help with your data and analytics needs? Contact us today, and we will be happy to help you explore new opportunities.