“We’re a customer centric company” proclaims the well-heeled account executive to the soon to be client. “It’s all about the customer. Without our customers our Cloud/SaaS Company is nothing.”
But how does that translate into a company culture? And how does that get realised in the execution of service? And how does that define the customer relationship?
The expansive and exhaustive clauses in the Master Service Agreements (MSA) and Statement of Work (SoW) used to level set engagements have been laboured over, positioned and postulated to the nth degree to protect “all” parties.
The ink is hardly dry when the next signing is due! Change Orders, Change Control and the endless negotiation on definition of accountability the ruin of many a good customer relationship. The cost and effort in tracking scope and reporting effort adds to burning up precious resource, budget and time. Is there an alternative?
Today the SoW and MSA are the established rule. But how does this fit with the social collaborative, agile method that we all profess to embrace in this Cloud/SaaS day and age? Is this the “outcome” based generation of delivery professionals or are we still entrenched in the “push me pull me” relationship of the last century?
Businesses can execute projects on a strategically optimistic level and become painfully compromised by this. Due diligence can cripple innovation. Hope and vision is an important human emotion that provides motivation, focus and leadership. A clear steer is needed in often uncharted waters. The SoW should be the wind in the ships (project) sails but often becomes a storm rather than a guiding wind as knowledge and learning unfolds.
Ask yourself this; “did the last SoW you delivered against really reflect the effort and journey that was originally set out in it?”, “was what was delivered anywhere close to what you discovered you actually needed?”.
Experience has shown that conflict of interests, and at times crises of principle, between the persona of a Partner and the execution of a Supplier can create the worse in customer relationship; waste, inefficiencies, missed opportunities and lost success, all trapped within the framework that is the Time and Materials (T&M) SoW of the last century.
I have experienced both sides of the customer and supplier relationship. I have felt the pains from both. The supplier that wants to act as a partner and finds the SoW culture aligns to acting as a supplier. And as the customer frustrated by the supplier who fails to grasp the bigger picture to step up to acting like a partner.
I am not saying that accountability, definition, financial management, penalty and control should be abandoned. I am saying that what SoW measures in this day and age are probably not fit for purpose and need to look at delivery and reward from a new set of metrics.
When I think back on being on the receiving side (the customer) I recall that success came from suppliers that worked jointly with me to overcome a challenge. This created the support relationship to bring an engagement to a mutually successful position – an outcome and a partnership. In this position at times it was necessary to deliver bad news to stakeholders and align with the supplier. But this was in preservation of the bigger picture. I commend those suppliers who went the extra mile finding the guts to invest in the relationship. You know who you are.
Those suppliers that took up a ridged and tightly formed scope approach chasing the margin suffered a cautious relationship with the stakeholder community. In fact most of the suppliers I worked with who took that approach are not in business today. Whereas most that partnered and invested in joint risk and challenge are.
In a recent Cloud/SaaS engagement it became clear that the needs of the customer could not be met by the existing arrangement and agreement. Both sides had a learning curve of industry and product that was steeper than first thought. Significant business change challenges and clear knowledge gaps existed that exacerbated the situation. Product capability and readiness impacted the shaping of the solution. The Customer’s ability to provide need support and definition lacking. It was clear that the duration between pre-sales, SOW agreement and actual project execution highlighted the rapid change of business in this day and age. Our SoW was out of date before we started the project!
This further encouraged my thinking that the SoW should focus on mutual recognition of risk, creativity of mitigation and contingency of clear measurable business outcomes; reduced cost through efficiencies, increased revenue through business intelligence, reputational outcome through tracking CSAT, retention of staff, retention of customers and business, bigger slice of the pie.
How about a collaborative transparent approach across all players in the project with joint investment/ownership and reward written into an agreed Statement of Outcome (SoO)? We all have some form of performance management scheme in our job roles and are familiar with these so why not make projects based upon the same SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) measures. Anything but scope, time and budget. All of which we rarely are really in control of as time elapses, scope changes and budget diminishes and more importantly, Business Changes, before the end is in sight.
So when I find the conversation focuses on a SoW and the tightly bound scope and engagement framework I ask myself “are we looking at the customer as a lifelong engagements?” or do we see them as a “revenue target for a fixed event?”
I argue that in this Cloud/SaaS subscription economy the latter does not hold weight. We need to rethink the terms of the SoW and look to embrace shared outcome for the longevity of a subscription through outcome based engagements (SoO) when it come to the implementing the solution and long term strategic revenue flows in a SaaS model.