Building credibility

There are a lot of approaches to building a good relationship with your client. All the ones I’ve seen boil down into a couple of basic themes:

  • Option A: keep telling them to trust you and believe you. Maybe one day they will
  • Option B: Keep your promises and do stuff for them. Let the evidence do the talking

Most of the projects I’ve seen that end up with a confrontational relationship between supplier and customer have used a variation of Option A. For a long time. Customers get frustrated when they think they’re being lied to. And not doing what you say counts as lying.

One of my recent clients had been burnt badly by the curse of large failing IT projects. Their operational units were disengaged with their IT Department as they’d been let down for the best part of a decade by cancelled projects, cost overruns and major defects. Like many others in that situation, they’ve done what they could to work around their “substandard” technology. You’ve seen this too – businesses running on strange Excel spreadsheets with even stranger macros.

What we did could be considered by “old fashioned IT Departments” to be tantamount to treason – we integrated with the business. So much so that we requested that at least one representative of the business be part of our delivery team and be part of doing the work. And we wanted regular access to the operational unit so we could run workshops, run demos etc. Sadly, they had to draw the line at the delivery team being located on the operational unit’s floor (no desk space).

And we did stuff. Iterative development models have an end-of-sprint demo event, so we demoed what we’d built to the business. They’d give us feedback, and two weeks later, they saw the effects. They saw us listening to them and doing what they asked immediately. Their voices mattered. We never told them to believe us or to trust us. We never had to. We just demonstrated that we were trustworthy and they took the initiative. Part of being trustworthy was saying “no” (with a good reason) when we needed to.

And when we launched the first version of the system, trust was even more important. Because now their customers (the public) would also see the system, what we’d built had an effect on how the customer perceived the business. So, when demo after demo we showed them the changes we’d been making because of what their customers found difficult or confusing, the goodwill that created was simply huge. We’d shown the business that not only did we listen to them, we listened to the people they thought were important – their customers.

That’s a lot of credibility.

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