Aggressive promises to clients and culture

It is very common especially (but not only) in software development for the following dynamic to occur:

   1) A client goes shopping looking for a product that will vastly jump start competitiveness in a very short time frame.

   2) The clients “procurement department” pushes for very aggressive commitments from possible vendors, knowing full well that while vendors will “apparently” comply with what they asking for in order to win the business, there will be slips in delivery, quality and price of the what they have purchased.

   3) The vendors, competing to win the bid, over promise and under charge. They know full well that once they have their foot in the client’s door, they can ”manage the client” and renegotiate both the deliverables and the price (phased delivery).

Now, let us look what happens within the vendor organization. The Head of R&D (let’s call him Willie)  is given this commitment by Sales or the CEO; Willie sees his yearly bonus and perhaps his career depending upon the delivery of this “promise” to the client.

Willie puts massive pressure on his “engineering leads” to commit and the pressure gets “transferred” down to the trenches where the coders get even more pressure, because each layer has sandbagged. And the coders know full well that this commitment ain’t gonna happen.

Here culture comes into play.

  • The folks who come from cultures where authority can be confronted will start pushing the obstacles, the hallucinatory  nature of the commitments and the bad news “up” to management.
  • The folks who come from cultures where obedience is the norm will “feign” obedience, and drop discrete hints about what is going, and not going to be delivered.
  • Folks who come from cultures where planning is a ritual will plan, plan and plan again.
  • Folks who come from a culture of improvisation will start working without a clear spec.

When delivery dates approach and as the ugly truth surfaces that the promise to the client is going to be missed, there is a massive rupture of trust, caused both  by the aggressive promises themselves, severely exacerbated by the different ways that people from different cultures react.

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