September 25, 2007

Just Say No (To People On Drugs)

I sometimes wonder if my clients are on drugs. I will provide them with a timeline that says, "If you give me X it will take Y days to deliver Z." They then say, "Oh, that means if I give X to him today, I'll have it by Q day!" Then, they wait a week and send me X and ask me if I will still be able to delivery Z by Q day.

So, I was rolling when I read this over at QA Hates You:

Remember, Project Managers, No is an unlimited resource; you can use it as often as you like to deal with timeline compression and feature creep, and you will always have more for the next time.

What I REALLY love, though, is the crackhead who commented in response:

Reminder to Managers outsourcing IT Work: Remember that a company’s attitude often reflects their abilities and confidence. The more you hear “no,” the more you need to wonder if they have an interest in seeing your project succeed. The best partners find a way to deliver what you need them to deliver. Be prepared to place your John Hancock on change orders and revised estimates - but do not take “No” for an answer. A “can-do” attitude is but one attribute of a successful relationship. Some companies will work with you to “find the way,” and others will force you into their way, or nothing. The company repeating “No” is the company passing on the complaints of uninspired and unmotivated employees. Like plenty of fathers have said in the past: “Can’t means won’t.”

That commenter sounds like some of my worst clients who think that it is a matter of "attitude" when it comes to the laws of physics.

What people do not realize is that there are two types of labor resources: skilled and unskilled. If you have a task that requires unskilled labor, then you can just throw more people at it and it will get done faster. If you have a task that requires skilled labor, though, there's a good chance that more people will only make things worse. It takes as long as it takes you need to relax. As I tell my client managers, "The client has to get glad in the same pants they got mad in."

If you are a client, you need to listen to the people you hire. Yes, they might be lying, but you cannot assume that. If you do assume they're lying, then you will set up a very adversarial relationship. Instead, assume they are always telling the truth. If your needs aren't being met, leave. This is business, not romance.

If you want to build trust with the people who work with and for you, make sure that you explain what you're trying to accomplish. This goes for clients/vendors/and internal resources alike. If you have to rush something, explain why it has to be rushed. What business situation lead to the need for the rush? Even if the cause of the rush is that you dropped the ball, explain that you dropped the ball and you need a rush.

You should not expect that just because you are open and honest and trusting with someone that all the answers to your every request will be "yes." That would be idiotic to say the least.

So, whether you're the client or the vendor or some schmuck approaching an internal department with a request, don't be a person on drugs.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at September 25, 2007 06:42 PM | TrackBack

[That commenter sounds like some of my worst clients who think that it is a matter of "attitude" when it comes to the laws of physics.]

How unfortunate. In a competitive environment, some vendors will be able to deliver on the customer's demands, and some companies will say "no," and will encourage their client to alter plans.

More often than not, in a competitive environment, the company that can deliver gets the business. I struggle to see how arguing in favor of saying "No" is a sound business strategy. Wouldn't it be far better to modify your approach or increase your resources so that you do not have to tell customers "No?"

How many times can you tell a customer "No," and explain that what they want is not something you can deliver... before your competition steals them away?

Usually... the encouragement to say "No" comes from frustrated developers who do not spend time worrying about business growth and customer relationships. I agree that you should never lie to a customer. But just because you can't get the job done as requested does not mean that somebody else can't.

Posted by: DarkStar at October 2, 2007 11:00 AM

Dark Star, are you really this obtuse?

You seem to have ignored a large part of my post -- particularly around the part where increasing/rearranging resources is not the solution for every problem. Sometimes "no" is the right answer and that is the only point being made here.

No one is denying that customers can't go elsewhere, but at the same time the fact is that there are some customers you do not want. Neither has anyone proposed a business whose entire strategy is about saying "no."

Moreover, no one has discouraged taking risks and accepting "stretch goals." But there is a limit and in order to be successful in business, you must know your limits and honestly communicate them internally and externally. And in order to remain competitive, you must also seek to continually improve, but willfully ignoring the current limitations of resources, processes, or even personnel will not get the job done.

In fact, being dishonest about your capabilities will hurt your ability to maintain and build customer relationships and the overall business far more than simply saying "no."

Unfortunately, many people ignore the positive power of saying "no" and that's what this discussion is about.

Usually the encouragement to say "yes" to everything comes either from inept managers or from sales people who make their commissions regardless of project outcomes.

Posted by: Flibbert at October 2, 2007 12:00 PM

Darkstar, I've deleted your comment from my site and blocked you from commenting again. You're ignorant and obtuse. And I don't want you here.

Posted by: Flibbert at October 2, 2007 05:45 PM
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