Despite my incredible urge to do so, this is article is not about the best farmers markets for quality, juicy, organic lemons. But it is about something just as important – not letting the elusiveness of technology get the better of you.
For years the technology industry has been plagued with labels like ‘money-pit’, ‘project-failure-office’, and ‘untouchables’. Unfortunately, not all of these labels were untrue at some point in time during the industries short lifetime. But we are no longer in the enlightenment era of the eighties, nor the renaissance era of the nineties, we now find ourselves more than two decades after those days of obscurity. And it’s about time we act our age.
I’ve only had 15 years in this glorious industry. It would not be a stretch to say I have loved every day of it. Though from the start of my career I was envious of those who were in the IT sector at its birth and infancy. Questions like How much money there was to be made?, and How much opportunity there was to be had? consumed me. But as I’ve worked my way through various corporate roles, consulting engagements, and speaking to hundreds of ‘insiders’, I find one thing continues to ring true, people are still paying for lemons. Whether its just a mobile application or something much more significant, not a week goes by where I don’t hear a “horror” story from someone telling me of their bad experience with one of my IT colleagues.
Some years back I started to see a common thread between those projects that succeeded (term used loosely) and those that failed. It was almost always about expectation management; the inability of the person asking for service to speak in a language well understood by the person who was providing the service. It wasn’t for lack of trying, quite the contrary, it was perhaps from too much excitement to reach the end goal. Much like the construction industry and the development of a skyscraper; a piece of software only becomes valuable once it is ready for use (ie in ‘Production’). Too many times we have seen not enough attention given to ‘how’ the software will be created, in preference to the ‘what’ software will be created. Mix in a few changes of mind and an ever expanding “wouldn’t it be great” list of functionality, and you’re always going to be overspending, or worse, spending on something that is just not valuable.
“Everyone knows how to build trust – spend more time together”
I’ve realised that the problem is not a technological one. Its not a linguistics one, nor is it a lack of intellect, perseverance, or dedication to project. It’s a human one. Before we can expect to be able to speak to one another, we really need to get to know one another. Ask any sales person out there (an industry that’s much more mature than the infant IT industry): you can’t do anything until you have trust – it is the base layer to any communication.
With a goal to change the tech world, I started thinking about how we build trust into our process. I didn’t have to think for long – everyone knows how to build trust – spend more time together. So when we now develop any software with new (or existing clients – language changes, just because you could speak the same language on the last project, doesn’t mean you will on the next one), we lay it out straight. Each client gets to see and play with the work we have done in a systemised way every two weeks.
Just from meeting every two weeks of a project we get more face-time and build on that trust base. Moreover, we deliver functioning software; leaving there no doubt about whether or not we are on the same page with regards to expectations. Lastly, it gives the client an opportunity to hit the Stop, Play, or Rewind button based on what they are seeing and feeling. We keep iterating through this cycle until the project is done and the trust in the relationship is in a place that we can call ourselves a true partnership.
Next time you are talking to one of my IT colleagues, understand that expectations will always be different, even if it sounds the same. No matter how much documentation, contracts, IP, or patents and paperwork you have – expectations will not be aligned. Work on building trust, then communication, and then lastly expectations, you’ll get home to your kids more nights, and the project will go to production with much less pain. You might even call it a ‘success’!
There is no reason for you to be stuck with a lemon.