Managing customer’s expectations

2 weeks ago we had a workshop with the Client, together with vendor B to discuss on the current implementation and questions on the integrations.  In the discussion, we were brought out with a couple of possible scenarios on how we are going to integrate our current solution with the vendor’s WMS.  Through the discussion, we realized the proposed requirements are currently not available in our solution and we have to have a change request to accommodate that change.  Knowing that we are already delayed in the development schedule, the upcoming holidays and no resource to be available to perform gap analysis on those scenarios, I highlighted that we may revert on the outcomes at month’s end or subjected to the offshore team’s analysis.  As what I had thought, this is not acceptable and through minor discussion we (the Client and my Account manager) came up with the 1 week’s time-line to get them updated on the preferred alternative to work on so that vendor B can start off with their development works.

Reflecting on what I had done during that meeting, I should have stood firm and disagree with the proposed time-line for updates.  Somehow, this situation came to myself and the account manager unexpectedly and as the Client is important to the company, we committed to a date.  We should have an informal chat with her, to set up expectations of the outcomes earlier (right now, we are working with them to see what we can come back with as the Customer is not accepting the outcome of the analysis to start next month).

This morning, we had a short chat with the senior management and one thing was brought up that we have to manage customer’s expectations and this come to about committing last week’s time-line that I mentioned earlier on the delivery of the gap analysis.  Although I was not involved in previous management’s discussions, I see that noone has raised up any outcome/resolution in regards on handling this issue with the Customer last week.  Now we start to talk about out-of-scope, additional cost/resources involved etc to react to the Customer’s escalation.  I suppose the management should have agreed to those even before my Manager reverted back to the Customer on last week’s decision and why are we still talking about this today????

Setting right expectations is easy to say than done, especially facing a major Customer’s pressures.  But one thing for such is that no matter what, we should think and react carefully as to protect the Company’s liability in any cases.  In this case, I understand from the discussion that the Customer understands the constraints of resources, the change of scope and other factors (cost, schedule) we have for this new change and they needs to get their vendor to start off the needed developments in order to meet the timeline with mininal efforts from both sides (my employer and vendor B).  We can see that they have to maintain their current processes with Vendor B so the direction given is to provide whatever we deems is accurate and benefit both the Customer and the Company eventually.

In most cases, customers are understanding and they have their own problems, likewise like ours too.  It is all in setting the right expectations and clear out assumptions.  Beside this, we internally have to set up common goals and understanding in the project so that we know what we shall be expecting and adapting to changes quick.  This is what I see lacking in the teams (commonly both business and development teams) when one party is not able to see the business benefits and customer’s values for the project, the other is placing ‘overboard’ commitments on our deliveries that results the Customer is always placing high expectations on us.


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December 2007
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