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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8 thoughts on “Aggressive promises to clients and culture

  1. It would be greatly interesting to come up with equivalent statements illustrating cultural differences of responses from OD practitioners. For example: “OD practitioners who come from cultures where authority can be confronted would tend to address the issue by….”

  2. Levis
    I have worked these situations w US based consultants and German consultants.
    The American focused on both “buy-in” to am agreed upon “plan”.
    The German focused on “do we have the details”?
    I focused on balancing between some planning and some doing, as well as encouraging early push back to management so that they could manage the client and create penalty free for late delivery.

  3. I have been curious of the following since I have met you Allon. How does “being Jewish” (you believe) influence how you became interested and adept at responding to cultural differences from how they process and create reality around them?

  4. Interesting question, mon amie.
    I believe that my being Israeli has more to do with it than being Jewish.

    Israel is a VERY diverse country.

    My son is married to an Argentinian. My daughter’s in laws are Syrian.
    Many of the staff I deal with come from FSU (Former Soviet Union).
    Many of clients are Chinese, Thai or Indians. I have spent extended periods of time in Asia.

    Being exposed to this diversity really causes humility about your own limitations, which is the basis of cultural literacy. I never expect people to understand me the first time.

    Strangely enough, I feel most comfortable in Thailand, where all conflict is avoided, although personally I tend to be confrontive. I LEARN more about myself when I am in Thailand than any other learning experience.

  5. It would be great to see an article on ‘Effects of Over-commitment to the customers’ from software organization perspective

  6. Pingback: The link between corporate culture and overly aggressive customer commitments. | Allon Shevat

  7. Pingback: On very very aggressive goals | Allon Shevat-אלון שבט

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