Some time ago, I was assigned a critical task at work. The task was to take the ownership of our new software solution for tablet devices that my company was banking big on. It was a strategic initiative that top executives was hoping high on and the company had a few prestigious customers lined up for demonstrations and piloting the product .
It was mixed feeling for me, that of happiness and nervousness. I was happy for the obvious reason that my employer showed confidence in me and awarded me with such a great responsibility. Nervous because I knew that my two predecessors who were better than me failed miserably and fell flat on their nose. I also learned that earlier failures were not due to a technical reason but due to the simple fact that we could not demonstrate to the potential customer that we can provide solutions that will address their requirements.
So I started reading all earlier communications that we had with this customer, meeting notes, technical specifications, problem statement and I then drafted my own version of problem definition and the desired solution. It was not much different from our initial understanding of customer requirements, but what I managed to ensure here is that I plant the right seed.
Solution definition was clear, so was the choice of technology and key members in the team. We went in iteration mode, getting frequent releases from development to QA, and rapid feedback from QA to development on build quality and feature implementation. It was 8 week project and I ensured that all stake holders and team members were kept well informed of the overall progress and corrective actions were taken timely. Success was inevitable but what was worrying me was the failure that earlier owners had faced while running demos and pilot projects.
So, in order to get a more accurate understanding of product behavior, I joined the QA team from the day we started getting Dev builds. I tested the product as it was supposed to be used, after all it was me who wrote the specifications and requirements. It was not just about testing but also shooting for a goal that I knew best. I had no option than to get my hands dirty.
On the day of demo, the product was showcased to a high power technical committee constituted by this prestigious customer. Due to the nature of business my potential customer has, they did allow just 2 people per vendor in the evaluation round. A sales guy and a technical guy, wherein I pitched in as technical support for my sales. I could set up the system in no time, scheduled various events and successfully demonstrated features to the satisfaction of the technical committee. Not only was the product demonstration successful but also I could answer all queries from the customer on why, how and if not, to customer satisfaction. And when I was winding up my paraphernalia of tablet devices and laptops, my experienced sales staff whispered in my ear, “The customer signature on the dotted line is just matter of time now. It was a great show”. Something that customer confirmed by sending us technical clearance mail.
In retrospect, what made the difference for me was NOT “Me” but the decisions that I took. Here are some of the learning that I carry forward to this day and wish to share;
- Knowing is not enough. Knowing from the right source and the root cause is non-negotiable
- Validate facts on your own. Don’t trust anything without substantial data.
- There is no alternative to proper planning. After this experience, I redefined RISK. RISK is when you do a job in parts and believe that the ‘Rest is Kool’.
- Communication and visibility is of paramount importance.
- Dirty hands helps in keeping your collar clean – do it yourself, dude. It yields great results.