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Frodo's Ghost | Easing Launch Stress
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Easing Launch Stress

Scenario: You have a large client who somewhere in the past decided you were the company to help with one part of their business. Over time they have established themselves as a provider of ‘Stuff’ by changing their business to suit the market – your company has grown and changed too.

This particular client are looking at getting a firm hold of their business processes and have come to your Company looking for help with the same aspect your company was previously involved in. You managed to show that, unlike before, your company are more than capable of doing the whole project.

The pitch was brilliant. You covered all the bases of what they were looking for and filled the gaps with everything they were thinking of. The only thing that would have made the pitch better was a standing ovation – maybe that will happen next time.

The project is massive; a complete restructuring of their business processes, combining several aspects of their business and merging them into one solution. It is the biggest job you have managed to get for the company, and everyone is looking forward to getting started.

Lets say the project development has been perfect. Your guys in the company built what you pitched and it is almost time to launch. You thought that everything was going great until everything went to hell. The client showed up without phoning to move the launch date closer, the developers are getting annoyed about the frequent questions and you are looking at the budget wondering where the profit is going to come from.

The Client is Stressed

Talking about making change is easiest. Investing money in a large project is easy. Putting the wheels in motion to change business practices is more difficult. All these require no actual change to established practices. The system change-over is where the doubts all get to the surface and all your hard work is brought into the spotlight.

Old systems, with their bugs and defects are a comfort blanket for anyone, we all have them. I think twice before updating the software on my phone, I wait more than a week before installing an OS Update. It takes more than a month of trials and testing before I would even consider changing my IDE.

The client panicked and is now look at putting all the old system bugs back into your brilliant new software. Is there anything you can do to remove or ease this stress?

I am of the opinion that you can’t. It is not possible to ease the clients stress – but there are things you can do to give yourself and your team piece of mind.

Handling Expectations

No matter how hard you try there will be bugs. Always. Handling expectations is an important thing, often learned after the screaming, yelling and refusing to pay of an angry client. More often than not this will give you stories that you can use with future clients.

Use stories of past clients you have dealt with or even projects you were involved in from other companies to help your client understand launching any project. When systems change, and little things become different ‘people’ panic, things will be changing with what and how the client uses their work processes – it is okay to feel uncertain about change; the client needs to know that you will be there.

Be up front with the client so that you can use terms like ‘As I have explained previously.’ and ‘We have known about this since the start.’ They may seem forceful to use, but they will become useful phrases towards the end of a project when the craziness is starting to set in.

Live to Fight Another Day

The client has signed documents and chosen you for the long haul. This is not a small project or one they will walk away from, no matter how much noise they make about doing so. The project will have things you are seeing as battles when in fact they are actually closer to wars; they could be small changes or whole modules that the client is not wanting to fight a war upon.

Do not feel that everything you pitched on has to be in the first version. You will have more expectations about what they will request and features that are more default. There are some concessions you can make now to ease tension and bring up later on when the client has more brain space to handle change.

Prerelease Launch :: The Fake Launch

This tactic is a sleight of hand, show one hand while you are doing something with the other. It is a way to sneak through with bugs in your code and to get it all done and tested. It will expose your weak points and things that require fixes without mud on your face.

It is a way also to get the client to understand the new business processes. Weather it is a small change – like how to post news articles, or a larger one where they are managing online registrations for a large conference.

This requires more hand holding than “Here is the link, tell me what you think.” It is a step-by-step understanding of the project. While a client requests changes and agrees to your solution they may not understand the completed project. Use a blank slate and get them to populate it with their content. Have someone inside the clients company communicate their internal practices to you, so you can speak their language in tutorials and teachings.

Get them to interact with the product. This small step will remove much fear when the time comes to let go of their old ways and walk with you into the new. The idea is that by getting the client to experience the actual new product they will start to understand the direction you are taking it.

Factor in Time

When the launch is impending factor in some correction time to the initial quote. Depending on the size of the project allow some time for your developers or designers to make changes as the client requests. Inform the client there are 10 or 15 hours of correction time once the brief has been fulfilled. This will inspire the client to use the site and to find things they do not like, it also means you are paying for last minute changes the client is backing out of.

To make this a winner, you can reduce the bill by the hours they do not spend making last minute corrections. This reward will leave good impression with the client, but also give you a way to factor in those last minute freak-outs before a big launch.

Support

Offer support to what you do. The best thing you can give your client is assurance that you will look after what you have built.

Previously this is not something I took care of, and clients disappear into the that dank place between ‘client’ and not-quite-client’, where any type of discussion is awkward. Whats worse is that we tend to have this going for us in our field of work, companies come and go, changes happen and money vanishes – businesses close.

Offering support from the start is one way to assure your clients they are not getting a company that build a solution and disappear with no way to keep it running. It shows you care. It is not difficult to set up a support email address and start answering questions.

This is similar to the good-cop bad-cop routine suggested by the @allroundniceguy :: Good Cop/Bad Cop: outsourcing your Accounts Dept . Separate your support from your development and you will keep your sanity. It also helps in that you can keep working on other issues, while keeping the client comforted that you will fix their problem.

Do your best to factor in the chaos element. Learn from each different interaction, it will help you create a richer experience with your new clients, and help you strength relationships with existing clients.

james
3 Comments
  • If I might, I would like to put forward my own thoughts on my own experiences with similar circumstances.

    The point is this, restructuring business processes is like willingly taking a punch in face. No matter how well you think you’ve prepared for it, it’s going to hurt; the question is why? Let me explain…

    For the most part, people don’t like change. Trust me, even when something is (for the lack of a better term) shiteful, most people will buck like a wounded stag when you tell them that you are going to change it. Why? Because they are familiar and familiarity brings security. Sure the software package you use everyday may have some ‘ecenstricities’, but you know what they are, right? How would you feel if someone came to you tomorrow and said “Hey! That peat bog of an OS you’ve been using? Well, we know what’s wrong with it and we’re here to fix it. First things first, you don’t have to use a mouse anymore! Just chant “oooombagaaala bom galoola” and WOW, everything you wanted to ever do> It’s done!

    Wait… What?

    I mean I get it, I sacrifice a goat and chant ‘jambalaya magical taco’ and things… happen, but how do I create a new invoice for a client with only two cheese exports?

    You may well know what you’are talking about but your end users? Not so much and there in lies the rub, the difference between what you know and what they are used to? Can sink you.

    I recently had to deal with the switch over betweeen a client that was well educated in a system that was… interesting and a new, more stringent and all together more standardised backend. You could not longer add a user with with an age of -999 years for obvious reasons, I mean… really! But… what? That’s how you entered non-financial members? but that’s just stup… No I wasn’t going to call you… God, please no you don’t have to tell the direct…

    Oh my.

    Something that a lot of companies ignore to their, or their staff’s, peril is the ‘drones’ (see Archer: Diversity Hire). You may well have pitched brilliantly, you’ve sold the management who can see the time saving benefits – they can probably ditch a while staff member with the new efficiency! But you know what? Comraderie can count and sometimes, just sometimes… that staff member may have friends that know they have kids, or a mortgage, or kittens and they can afford to be ‘ditched’ and all of a sudden you find that you have to defend yourself against a torrent of backlash because the people that are expected to use your system may not want the change. And not always for tghe reasons you expect.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm
  • By the way, I spell like awesome. FTW

    June 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm
  • stig@sdm.co.nz
    Reply

    I think you could write a book about projects involving restructuring business processes from outside a company. I think the only paragraph missing from above is the one about the ‘man on the inside’ who has understanding of the business processes, influence(!) and authority.

    In the end a big restructure is like some kind of romance between companies, needs oh-so-much direct communication and facetime, it can get heated and passionate (late nights?), and both parties have to make concessions and be understanding for it to work.

    June 18, 2011 at 6:00 am