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Help! I’m Going To Disappoint 100% Of My Customers!

June 11, 2013

I need help

What’s the problem?

I just realized that when we ship in September I’m going to disappoint 100% of my customers.

I was president of RESMARK and we were building a reservation system for the rafting industry. It was only May but I can read a spreadsheet. It’s One of The Things I Did There. And my spreadsheet said that at our current velocity I was going to run out of summer before I ran out of features for the team to implement. Okay, the team was never going to run out of features, but the ones that I’d promised would be in RESMARK version 1.0 were now below the line. That meant unless something changed, every one of my customers was going to be disappointed with what we shipped on September 1st.

The problem of over-promising and under-delivering exists in all industries, of course, but in the software industry we’d turned it into nearly a given. There are three inputs that go into software development.

– Schedule
– Features
– Resources

As a project manager, you get to modify any two. My schedule was set. I HAD to ship on September 1st or I’d miss the the most important trade show of the year and ultimately the entire next season. My resources were already stretched to the limit. I was running the company on investment money and my investors, while supportive, naturally expected me to operate with the budget we had agreed. Plus, in software development there’s a paradox called The Mythical Man Month. It shows that at a certain point, adding more people to a project actually slows the project down. You have to bring people up to speed, and train them. That process takes people away from building new features. The Mythical Man Month is summed up in the analogy, one woman can have a baby in 9 months. Nine women cannot have a baby in one month.

The only option I had was to cut features. But, I had customers who were expecting those features. I knew I was going to disappoint them and I wanted to get in front of that problem sooner rather than later.

So, I called my brother, the marketing genius.

Come to San Diego and we’ll spend a day brainstorming on where you’re at and map out a strategy. (It was during this trip that I learned about “Exceeding The Speed Limit – And Expectations.)

After explaining to him how we got to this position and what my options were for getting out, he gave me a suggestion.

You need to tell them.

What do you mean? Like a conference call?

No. I think you need to go visit each person who’s put money down for your product and explain it to them in their office.

I should explain that our product cost $10,000, and I had 10 companies who’d given my $5,000 each on the promise I’d deliver it. So, I set out on a summer tour. I visited Whitewater Excitement on the American River in California. I visited Western River Expeditions and Moab Adventure Center in Utah. ROW in Idaho. Echo Canyon, and Noah’s Ark on the Arkansas River in Colorado. A rafting company in the North Woods of Wisconsin. ZOAR Outdoor, in Massachusetts.

By the end of the summer, I’d been to see each customer. The results were surprising. One customer asked for their deposit back and went with a competitor who had a shipping product. The other nine asked me some tough questions, and I very conservatively estimated what features would be there in September, and in what order we would add additional features through the winter. When it was said and done, nine of them let me keep their money and agreed to accept a product with fewer features.

I’m convinced that if I had simple sent an email, or done a conference call, most of them would have pulled their support. But, by going to their locations and being honest with them about the state of our product, they took that as evidence that we were a company they could trust.

Ironically, I spent the summer traveling to the most exiting whitewater rafting locations in the country and didn’t go rafting a single time. But, that wasn’t really the point.

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