Delivery with no surprises
OK, I’ll admit sometimes they can be fun.
But in business, and specifically in the successful delivery of major IT projects, I’ve found that almost no one likes surprises.
‘Legendary Service’ is one of the HighPoint fundamentals that my team aspires to every day, and a key way we deliver it with no surprises relies on building a deep and trusted relationship with our customers. This means that even when something has to change (which happens in pretty much every project, however well you plan and prepare) the customer trusts us to deliver the outcomes they need without undue panic or concern.
In business as in personal relationships, it takes an investment of time and energy to reach the point where a customer truly trusts and believes in your ability to deliver. There’s no standard ‘rinse and repeat’ model for this because business relationships are influenced by individual personalities and the unique needs of the corporate environment they work in. Of course, in large IT transformations, we work with many different personalities throughout a project, each of which we need to build trust and rapport with.
Different stakeholders have different needs and I like the way that Bain thinks about this in their 40 elements of B2B value – it demonstrates really clearly the value and outcome drivers that resonate across different levels of an organisation – be they strategic, operational, performance-related or economic. So it’s worth considering this as the project sponsor or buyer’s expectations of a project (focused on the implementation outcome and on-time delivery to budget) are almost always rather different from the project team’s expectations.
In my work heading up Delivery at HighPoint UK, I often find this to be the case. So to ensure there are no surprises or broken promises, it’s very often our role to bridge the gap and ensure that everyone retains full visibility of the project’s progress filtered through the lens of the outcomes that matter most to each of them. All of this is housed within a project plan which clearly states the staging of milestones and deliverables. This plan will always be managed flexibly to ensure what’s conceptualised during the commercial phase, can flex when unexpected things happen. This turns a surprise into something totally manageable. But it’s the strength of the relationship that ensures that a new change request is never perceived as a problem – at worst it’s a collective challenge that focuses on resolution rather than finger-pointing. And at best it can be a positive thing, driving towards a better outcome than first planned.
So how do we go about forming a powerful trusted relationship with a new contact or Customer?
Here’s my blueprint for building trust:
- Be Clear on Expectations – Honour Commitments
New relationships are often the hardest to forge, but the number one thing I always try to do is set clear expectations up front around the delivery plan, and focus maniacally on over-achieving them. I cannot overstate the importance of honouring the commitments you’ve made to a customer so it’s critical that you’re honest in setting the right expectations. New relationships rarely recover when one party feels let down by inflated promises or unrealistic deadlines. Sometimes we’ve been engaged halfway through a failing project by an unhappy Customer. This requires a redefinition of the project plan and timelines as it’s important that both parties negotiate and agree a reset of the plan starting from a point of common ground. You know you’ve forged a strong relationship when you can conduct this process with the customer over a “beer and a burger”.
- Communicate to be Understood
As I already covered, the needs and outcomes of different individuals on a project differ from one another. A business buyer or executive sponsor primarily speaks the language of business, not technology so I make sure I always articulate the scope, progress and outcomes of a project in those terms. By comparison, an Engineering lead will respond to a more technical conversation, so it’s important to flex your language to be appropriate to them too. In either case, I communicate to be understood.
- Finding Advocates
The world of agile IT Transformation can sometimes seem surprisingly small. Good people move around from role to role and take their trusted partners with them. So finding your advocates is critical. After all, in the words of Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” At HighPoint we really focus on our relationships to ensure we maintain a reputation for delivering with high quality. We believe we earn our reputation by doing hard and complex things well and keeping things as transparent as possible.
- Keeping an Eye on Innovation
Our customers rely on us to constantly track the leading edge of technology for them, working with the most innovative vendors. They need us to understand new technology waves and be able to implement them with confidence, even if it’s the first time we’re doing it. My team invests considerably in this, bringing in additional expertise and training, and slotting it in to a tried and tested delivery framework.
So how do I know if this blueprint is working on a business relationship? I have 2 sets of Customer based measures – one hard, one soft, and 1 Internal measure.
First, did we deliver the stated outcomes the customer needed? Was the implementation delivered on time, to budget? Is the environment functioning and delivering as planned?
Second, is the customer happy? This is often a hard measure to judge concretely, but you will always know if you feel you had to drag them over the finish line kicking and screaming! A successful project almost always leads to a new brief or opportunity, so if your customer is talking to you about what’s next (even before you’ve finished the first engagement) then you know the foundation is placed for a long-term relationship. Of course, I keep track of the key stakeholders in an implementation throughout its lifecycle – not just at the end. I meet with them regularly and listen to them intently, because like our customers, I don’t like surprises either! This process ensures HighPoint is highly engaged and can respond to any issues rapidly.
The final, internal measure that we focus on,which often supports the quality of our customer relationship is the morale of the HighPoint team. Afterall, we strive for true partnership and deliver our best outcomes to customers when our team are happy and engaged. You’ll hear more on this topic from Tom Coulbeck, our Global Delivery Director, in a future blog.
In my next piece, I’m going talk about how I approach building and leveraging the ecosystem of partners and vendors for successful delivery. In the meantime, if you want to talk some more about how HighPoint can help deliver technology transformation with no surprises, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next time.
Written by Ankit Patel, Director of Professional Services, HighPoint, UK