Monday, June 1, 2015

Friendly fire

This is a true story. The company names have been changed.


Acme Services was selling version four of its sales and distribution system to Standard Inc., a new customer.  Version four had many features that Standard wanted, including pre-built integration with several other industry-standard systems used by Standard.

Timing would be critical, as Standard’s existing system could not support upcoming regulatory requirements, and price discounting calculations that the marketing department believed were holding them back from significant sales.

What version to implement?
In May, Standard’s VP IT told the Acme sales rep that the regulatory changes were going to be government-approved sooner than anticipated. The system implementation would have to be completed by mid-July.

This date was not possible, as version four would be released in September, and then would need to be configured and tested before go-live.

Standard and Acme discussed other options. For example, could version three be implemented immediately, followed by an upgrade to version four later? That approach wasn’t feasible, as version three didn’t meet Standard’s integration and reporting requirements. Just as important, version three took several weeks to implement, so could not be completed by mid-July.

The Acme sales rep suggested to the Acme project manager that he should push the version four delivery date earlier and give Standard a September go-live date. The Acme project manager refused to guarantee an earlier completion and delivery date because he knew that version four couldn’t possibly be ready and implemented by then. The Standard VP IT was irritated that the mid-July date was not being taken seriously.

Back to requirements

The project manager asked Standard detailed questions about immediate requirements. Although Standard wanted everything that version four had to offer, what elements could wait and what elements really had to be in place in July?

Standard’s VP said they could live without the flexible configuration, management reporting, and integration for a short time, but absolutely had to be able to meet regulatory requirements for distribution of their new product by July 15. Some of the discounting features were also crucial to their marketing strategy.

The project manager suggested that what Standard needed by July 15 was version one, with some customizations. Doing the custom programming for version one would delay the release of version four, as the same programmers would be used. When version four became available, then Standard could implement it and get all of the features they wanted.

Standard’s VP thought version one was an acceptable interim solution. However, the Acme sales rep said there were some technical issues that would be problematic. She and the project manager retreated to another room to make phone calls to the Acme technical staff.

Friendly fire

As soon as they closed the door to the other room, the Acme sales rep let the project manager know that she was very angry. This was a terrible solution, as the sale for version four would not fall in the current year’s revenue, nor would her commission. There was no license fee for version one, so the only revenue would be for the custom programming and implementation fees. The phone calls made were not to technical staff but to the Sales VP and Executive VP at Acme.

The project manager was on the receiving end of a tirade from the sales rep, the Sales VP, and the Executive VP. They really wanted the version four revenue booked this year. They felt that if they pushed hard enough, they could convince Standard to accept the September delivery date for version four, allowing the version four sale to occur in the current year. Then, when the software was not ready, Standard would have no choice but to accept the delays.


Acme did customize version one and install it at Standard by July 15. Although version one did not have much functionality and was inflexible, it was able to do the basics that Standard needed.

Standard was very pleased with Acme for coming up with a solution to the timing problem. They operated version one until March, when Acme implemented version four of the software at Standard.


Sometimes the project manager has to stand up to members of his own team to deliver what the customer really needs. The project manager’s recommendation was based on the customer’s best interests, but his own organization was displeased about the delayed revenue.

The version one approach allowed Standard to meet its regulatory obligations and use the price discounting features to expand the market for its product, so the effort was appreciated. Standard became a high-profile, very satisfied customer reference for Acme.

In order to figure out how to solve the customer’s timing problem, the project manager had to re-visit the customer’s requirements. This additional analysis was the key to determining how to solve the customer’s problem.

Copyright 2015 Debbie Gallagher