It ain’t necessarily so

July 14, 2012

Another cartoon from Hugh opens these continued reflections on project management and its a good one.  The hairy assed project managers of my previous post knew who the customer was; the CEO of the supplier.  They kept that in mind and delivered what he needed.   Now this is from time to time necessary.  DataSciences in those days was in survival mode, there were months when paying the wages was achieved by the skin of our teeth. Necessary maybe, but desirable no.  Its a matter of balance, customers are not always right, sometimes they are mislead, misguided or plain mistaken.  They confuse all reasonable endeavours in a contract with best endeavours: that means we will bankrupt the company if necessary to solve your problem.  Hence the title of this post which the literate will recognise is from Porgy and Bess the Cape Town Opera production of which I will see at the English National Opera later today.  For those not familiar with it, its sung by Sportin' Life when he casts doubts on certain morals drawn from the Bible. 

 A true customer relationship co-evolves, there is give and take.  Its not about the two extremes of We must always delight our customer or profit is king to take two populist mantras.  I remember delivering one major project to time and to budget, something that was only possible because the client had decided they no longer needed the system and hoped we would fail in a delivery so they would have an excuse to cancel the contract.  Its a real delight, if very very boring to just have to deliver software to spec, knowing that no one will ever use the system!  In practice we all know that there are huge gaps between the reality of what customers need, what they say they want, how that is written down in a specification and what ends up being delivered.

Over the years I have both developed software, and specified needs to software developers.  The better developers listed to me, patiently expressed interest in my screen designs then went away and produced something much better than I could have thought of.  Cynthia Kurtz was very good at this when we worked together and I like to think I had the same skill when I was designing and building decision support systems back in the 80s and 90s.  Co-created, co-evolved whatever, its about iterative evolution but that does not mean going round a linear process faster.  Two many people (and a few AGILE people are guilty of this) simply take a linear flow, make a circle and think they have made it.  Its much more than that.

Of course the secret here is to start the journey in a better place.   I will return to that tomorrow, but I want to leave you with the thought that its better not to bore a customer than it is to delight them.

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