The roots of enterprise IT failure often lie in the sales process:
- Sales guy promises the world to customer
- Customer (naively) believes sales guy
- Project fails and customer is shocked
Sales-driven IT failures happen all the time, sometimes leading to serious and highly public recriminations. Waste Management's recent lawsuit against SAP offers but one example. Larry Dignan summarized the issue well:
At issue is whether SAP promised too much in trying to land Waste Management as a reference customer and whether the customer was duped into using software the German software giant knew wouldn’t work.
Most sales-driven failures are not played out in the press. More often, a project manager is tasked with an impossible project that's setup to fail. A reader described this problem in an email:
The sales team sells a vision, the technology to achieve that vision, and possibly a vague SOW. The project manager, arriving after the sale, is faced with a big problem: the customer expects great results, there's new technology on site, the business processes will require major re-engineering before the "real" project can begin, and the time frame is unreasonably short.
We care about this problem because the customer sees "a project" and expects the PM to perform and deliver. But we're out of scope before the project life cycle takes its first breath.
THE PROJECT FAILURES ANALYSIS
Some vendors, especially R&D-oriented ones, simply don't allow their sales force to exaggerate claims about product features, performance, or implementation costs and time lines. Sales-focused vendors will tend to accept more white lies in the pursuit of revenue.
But what about the poor project manager? When facing a sales-driven failure, I suggest project managers do the following:
- Find a new job. If sales-driven failures are common in your organization, eventually you'll become a scapegoat and perhaps fired for problems not of your own making. Life is too short, so plan your escape now.
- Engage in collaborative problem solving. Brings the heads of sales and consulting together for a problem-solving session. Make clear that we have a shared problem. Don't leave the room until everyone acknowledges that shared planning and joint responsibility will be required to make things right
- Do your best. If the no-win problem becomes your responsibility alone, then apply the best judgment you can muster. That's about all you can do, aside from seeking help from anyone willing to assist. Remember, the politics around failure are treacherous, so please be careful.
Sales-driven IT failures are a scourge of the enterprise software industry. Whether customer or vendor, don't accept outlandish claims by sales people -- they will come back to bite you.