One of the most memorable experiences I had as a child is going to the town fair with my dad and standing in line not for the rides, but to get the well anticipated cotton candy. To this day I can picture the smell of scorched sugar as the pan was spinning round and round. I can still hear the sugar pouring into the pan, feel the heat from the burner underneath, and picture the forming shape on the cane. Each one would turn out differently, some bigger others small, they all had a different texture but no matter what - they were all to die for!
Software implementation services have a lot in common with cotton candy with one distinct caveat. Most include unmet expectations that leave a bad taste in your mouth. But why is that? Why can’t vendors and consultants just get it right? In part, like cotton candy every project is unique and in fact one of a kind. When you buy a Coke can at your local grocery store, there is high probability that it will look the same and taste the same as any other can of Coke on that shelf. Compare that to getting a haircut, even if you go to the same stylist on the same day of the week on a consistent basis, the outcome will be slightly different every single time. Whether you catch a flight or take a collage course, every service you consume has the potential to suffer from similar quality inconsistencies.
But there is more to failure than quality problems. In the services business, we seem to be embracing a vicious cycle of inflated promises and high expectations that never really come to fruition. The cycle starts with the sales team painting a new tomorrow, stressing that the vendor has done it hundreds of times, and showing skewed benchmarks that often take into account the most successful projects. The clients on their end want to believe. They have a timeline to meet and a business to grow, and their sales reps are making their own promises to customers and company stakeholders based on the new bliss. Everyone becomes infatuated with an overly optimistic plan, and both sides pivot to the best possible outcome.
To break that cycle, clients should always assume that things will go wrong. They should insist on talking to clients that failed to implement a similar solution and where possible break down projects into smaller, more consumable chunks. Vendors on the other hand should be more upfront with their clients. They should share real world data and outline the risks unveiled in the early assessment of the project. Communication is also a key element, and in many cases when something goes wrong, it gets communicated late or not at all, adding to the overall friction and dissatisfaction.
When done right, this approach will help build stronger and more sustainable relationships between vendors, consultants, and clients and maybe, just maybe the social sphere will start rhyming praises about software implementations gone right!