With over 12 years of experience delivering projects on both sides of the fence, consultancies and client side, I have learnt a few lessons about how not to get fired. My past has very much been a command and control, meaning that my experience has included unintentionally designing solutions that whilst advantageous for the customer, were hell for the engineers, and costly for the sponsors. Solutions that ended up compromising on a number of levels.
Over the years I have changed my mindset – now, I’m here today to share with you “How Not To Get Your Organisation Fired” by using the Four Rules of Engagement with your customers and clients. These rules have been developed to focus on what really motivates individuals and teams at work, whilst also optimising delivery and building long lasting client relationships.
As Salesforce superheroes doing amazing things to bring value to our customers, we want to make sure that by the end of our work the customers aren’t just happy with their fancy new feature, but we are also building a long lasting relationship to continue delivering value.
The Four Rules of Engagement
These Four Rules of Engagement may not come as a surprise to you, they may even seem obvious. Yet as individuals, teams, consultancies, and organisations we continue to miss them.
The Four Rules of Engagement:
- Collaboration over promises
- Optimism over late communication
- Realism over resource constraints
- Change over fixed plans
Let’s look at each one in more depth.
Collaboration over promises
In your bid for work you promise the world, but end up delivering an undeveloped, cold, crater filled moon.
Over promising and under delivering is all too common. Is that because we are too optimistic with our plans? Because we don’t involve the team? Or perhaps because we build in clauses that state any changes outside of the original scope will incur additional fees?
The key question I always ask when going into a project with fresh eyes is “is this realistic?”. The response is usually “No, but that’s what we promised”.
SPOILER ALERT: Promises don’t perform magic.
So what do you do? Accept that perhaps you did over promise and there is a likelihood of underdelivering? It’s ok to accept that you over promised, the important thing is to understand what value you can deliver to your customer now.
- Blank canvas: Start with where you are and where you want to be, and map it out.
- Be honest, open, and transparent: Don’t wait to tell your customer, boss, or stakeholders. Speak up, challenge the status quo, and present the value that you can bring sooner.
- Improve your estimates: Learn from previous experience, ask awkward questions and involve people that have actually done the work before.
Do all of this before you initially respond to a project bid and, if you’re already knee deep in the project, follow these steps before your next stakeholder meeting. Stop “finger in the air” estimates and quick responses. It will bring more value to your customers, users and clients to say:
“I want to be able to give you a good estimate on timelines and budgets, please let me go back to my team who are willing and able to support me on this. This way we can be as open and transparent with you in delivering this project.”
Optimism over late communication
Perhaps you and the team truly believe that you will be able to achieve the original plan you put together. That’s great – optimism is good. But acknowledge if there is a tiny niggle that perhaps it’s not achievable, or if there is a chance that something could derail it because there is no flexibility.
Communicate any concerns before it’s too late! Proactively raise the issues before you get asked any awkward questions.
All too often project teams try to deflect issues by focusing on parts of the project they have delivered. Customers aren’t stupid – they will ask what happened to the missing requirements and they won’t be impressed that you tried to avoid the issue.
- Keep it regular: You will be told if you communicate too much, but you are less likely to be told to communicate more. Instead, the receiver will moan about it to colleagues, management, or perhaps worse, other customers. And gradually the frustration builds.
- Keep it meaningful: Communication shouldn’t be in the form of a status report. They aren’t read properly, if at all. Customers, clients, and management, look for red flags. If there’s nothing obviously wrong they assume everything is on track. Look at different forms of communication (suggested below).
- Keep it memorable: Humans are visual beings. We process visual data better than any other type of data and the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text data.
- Show and tell: Physically show what you have achieved and what you have not achieved.
- Talking straight: Go over to their desk – that can be virtually by turning your cameras on!
- Pick up the phone: Avoid emails. Emails lack the personal touch and tone can be easily misunderstood.
Be experimental – try things out and learn from what you try.
Realism over resource constraints
One of the most frequent excuses for non-delivery I have heard is “We weren’t able to do ABC because we have resource constraints”. Where is the value in this? Instead be real throughout. Resource constraints can be anything from training days, holidays, sickness, or other projects. But let’s start with the more common arrivals.
Resource constraints become an even bigger issue when the project has over promised and under communicated. This can lead to the dreaded consultancy fever – burn out.
- Don’t hide a holiday: Ensure that you have already considered this in your estimates when planning resource availability. Holidays should be fun and energising, not an excuse to delay.
- Don’t hide a sickness: Sickness happens, accept it and be upfront.
- Don’t hide a priority: If a priority is “under threat” proactively look for ways to resolve it by sharing the load with other team members or discussing re-prioritising. Not everything can be a priority so ask your customer to be realistic. A sudden environmental change really defines our priorities, and allows us to remove what is not adding value, enabling us to bring value in smaller chunks. Understand the impact and be real with your stakeholders and team.
Change over fixed plans
Plans based on “We just need to get it done”, or better yet, “You just need to get it done” are demoralising and don’t magically get it done.
If you give a customer or client a plan knowing the foundation of that plan is based on “we just need to get it done” then you are setting yourself and your team up for stress and failure.
- Challenge: It may be scary because your boss is telling you it must get done, perhaps you are new to the company, you feel like it’s always you that has to say “no”, or you just don’t feel confident in challenging others. No matter how scary, you must find ways to explain and challenge issues in the current plan and present the facts. Bring your knowledge on the why, and how value can be brought safer and happier, where sooner may not be possible.
- Estimates: Assess the impact and understand the changes needed. Estimate as a team, not as an individual and use the knowledge of others to help refine those estimates. Acknowledge estimates are not always correct, but gives us insight.
- Order: Speak with the customer and understand the 1D priority – what is going to “bring better value sooner, safer and happier”, a one dimensional priority list.
Go forth and conquer, but remember, with the Four Rules of Engagement. This will help you support your organisation, and ensure they will not get fired.
As Salesforce superheroes we have to be bold, speak up, deliver value, and bring knowledge. Conceptually it’s easy to understand but, as most things, hard to implement.