BUILDING, AS STRANGE AS IT MAY SEEM, is not all that much different from ITC in the manner in which some companies manage their projects.
We have just survived a bathroom renovation.
After several attempts to find a suitable builder, we chose Bob. What we liked about him was not only his affable and can-do personality (he’s a nice guy), but his quite impressive website. On it he features a photographic gallery of bathrooms he has built, all shapes and sizes. But to top it off, there’s a captivating video of Bob, directly addressing the viewer about himself and his capacities to do a quality job (has he had media training, or is he just a natural?). Along with some very good references, we were sold, and engaged his services.
But, typically, Bob is not the person who actually does the work. He employs sub-contractors to do the building, tiling, plumbing, lighting, plastering, painting and carpentry. Of course, Bob tries valiantly to keep them to their task and do as good a job as possible…but they have a different sense of the meaning of ‘quality’. Their interpretation is: getting the job done as quickly as possible and not doing anything over and above what was ‘agreed’ with Bob. And, if there is a problem, you talk to the builder, and if he insists, they’ll fix it.
So despite Bob’s best intentions, it’s a constant battle to ensure the floor is level, the toilet flushes, the vanity is straight, the basin plumbing is in the correct position, the lights and switches are located correctly. For us to insist on this quality finish is to be labelled, “very particular”.
This project approach also infects other industries, including ICT.
The company spruiker (marketer, accounts manager) frames the proposal, quote, response to tender, promising this, that and the other. He comes in, full of confidence, to the interview and presentation, impressively showing what the organisation can do, on his shiny iPad. He flaunts the gallery of past work with a great flourish of irresistible descriptions and promise. It all sounds terrific, and after checking references, the company is duly engaged.
Then strides into frame their hard-edged project manager. Armed with Gantts, schedules, SOWs, budgets, reality strikes. No longer are we ‘clients’, but project ‘stakeholders’. Things over-promised are shifted into the ‘variations’ basket. The schedule is revised. Any milestones missed are ‘client-caused’, and this means delays conflict with the developer’s immediate capacity and other projects, which bump the schedule further down the production line. Production staff, who were nominated as being in the project team, are replaced by invisible others. The main guy who got it all going has completely disappeared from view (on to other work prospects no doubt) or when contacted as the project wheels fall off, feigns surprise and promises to straighten it out – which means handballing it back to the project manager.
In product sales terms, the business strategy is called “bait and switch”. In this context, it means advertising a small number of goods at low prices to entice customers to a business. When the advertised goods quickly run out, customers are switched to higher-priced goods. This is against the law qpfqmnq.
[As an aside, this is not illegal in politics, where parties use a “bait and switch” strategy in Opposition, only to reveal their real agenda once in Government (e.g. witness the Abbott 2014 Budget).]
So whilst Bob the builder’s project plan is not at this level of duplicity, it has a similar impact on the client: feeling misled, frustrated, wary, having to constantly check the work (more work for us, the client), negotiating revisions and dealing with longer timelines.
So how do we protect ourselves from this?
1. Seeing the company spruiker as just that: a spruiker. Therefore, testing his spiel and checking carefully with referees their experiences of the project (not just the outcomes).
2. Ensuring the Statement of Work documents what the spruiker promised.
3. Ensuring that the production team is clearly identified and their capabilities specified. This does not mean just receiving a full production staff list, and leaving it at that. It means asking to meet the production staff, so that they are visible and collectively understand the requirements of the project from the client’s point of view. This is a win-win for both production team and client, as they both know what the project expectations are.
4. Being notified of any changes in the production team as the project progresses.
5. Rebutting the notion of clients as ‘stakeholders’ with a clear statement that: “we are paying the bills”.
As for Bob, he would be much better served by insisting that his sub-contractors do the work to quality standards at the first go, making sure the specifications are clearly communicated and followed, rather than inspecting what they have done and making them do it again if done incorrectly.
It reminds me of the story about the very large billboard positioned on a major freeway into Los Angeles.
One day there appeared on it a sign boldly proclaiming, IT’S COMING. Car commuters saw it every morning as they drove, wondering. Two weeks later, overnight, the sign changed to: IT’S HERE! And in the lower corner of the billboard the name of a palatial Los Angeles theatre. On the said night, the theatre was packed with audience anticipation as the orchestra started playing, the curtain slowly drew back to expose a large colourful sign: IT’S GONE. After several minutes the curtains closed, the orchestra stopped playing and the house lights came on.
Is this a metaphor for business in the 21st century?