Aug 3, 2021 by Ian Nathanson
How to Please Everyone All the Time
The Three Archetypes of Being a Successful Business Partner in Technology
Times have changed.
Companies used to be able to sit back and just flirt with technology. Leave their IT budgets semi-funded and leave their roadmaps, vision statements, and tech demos full of lofty goals that they would never honestly attempt to actually accomplish. An App was a fun gimmick or toy used for mostly marketing purposes and a website was for informational purposes only.
Today, if you don’t have these things you are not just an “old company,” you are on the critically endangered species list. Because technology is not aspirational in this day in age, it’s basic table stakes.
Every company has to be a technology company.
There is a statistic that says that a large percentage of people are one paycheck away from going broke.1 One might even say that, currently, companies that are not investing a large portion of their revenue into technology right now are one technology cycle away from going broke themselves.
By not investing into technology and sticking “with their core competencies” and “staying within their lane,” some companies have inadvertently leveraged themselves into a position of insolvency and when that bill comes due, it’s already too late.
It’s understandable why some companies hesitate. Technology is not cheap.
Building and maintaining a technology core where one does not currently exist is not always feasible. Competing in the marketplace for the best talent and maintaining that talent against the tech giants’ bottomless coffers is nearly impossible.
But just like building or renovating a house, you do not buy the construction workers. You contract through a company to complete the project you need done. But just like any horror construction or reno story, what matters most is who you decide to bring in.
That’s where we come in.
Cognizant Softvision is not a temp agency
We aren’t put into companies to fill jobs. This is not a role where you can just sit there with your head down and turn on auto-pilot. They have HR, they have recruiters, they could just do that themselves.
If you are just a “nine to fiver”, this is not the job for you. You have to dive in deep and get dirty and truly engage. You have to be passionate about your client’s outcome. They have come to us because they cannot achieve what they want without our help.
We are put into companies to make their ideas a reality. We build the bridge from the dream to a sustainable working product.
Now, we aren’t genies. We can’t take impossible wishes and make them true. We have constraints, we live in reality.
So, who are we, if we are not defined by just our job title?
As a Product Owner in the Product Strategy/Product Delivery community at Cognizant Softvision, I’ve developed a working theory of who we should be to ensure customer success, satisfaction and sustainability – the three archetypes.
The First Archetype: The Construction Contractor
As already alluded to, we first have to be general construction contractors.Technology can often be mistaken for magic when it is not properly understood. What we do is not magic though. There is no magic, panacea or cure-all for every project. Technology cannot solve all problems and in the same token, and honestly we are not the right fit for all engagements. Let the client know this because sometimes “the best move is not to play” and they will respect you more for it.
Each engagement and project must be scoped correctly and realistically with the client. Set early realistic expectations with healthy schedules and proper budgets. If done right, the client becomes a partner for life and this single engagement multiplies into many.
Rome and houses aren’t built in a day. If you try, no one gets what they want and it can be very destructive in terms of wasted capital, opportunity cost, and good will. There must be enough time to properly construct, test, and document for a sustainable hand off. The client must understand and be able to maintain what you created together.
If you try to slim down a budget into a project that won’t fit, you can end up having to cut corners to try and make it work during the actual engagement. Helping the client understand that you get exactly what you pay for is key.
Right size and select the correct specialists for the job. If you have a construction project that requires tile work, bringing in a team of only carpenters is not going to work. They may be able to do the job, but it’s not going to give the client the best result.
The myth of the fullstack jack-of-all trades is alive and well. Sometimes you can get someone who can do both jobs, but there are certain mentalities that work better in certain aspects than others. Get your specialists, and if the amount of specialists you need exceeds the budget, you can discuss having a portion of that team to be rotating but also understand that this may be a warning sign that the scope of the project is too big for this one engagement.
The Second Archetype: The Technology Psychiatrist
We are technology psychiatrists. And like any patient they wouldn’t be there if they could just fix themselves.
But you cannot come in like a know-it-all, hot shot, “I have seen it all before, I have the answer to everything” attitude. People and companies do not respond well to that generally and reject what you will bring to the table even if you are 100% correct. They want to be first felt to be understood. They want to be heard.
The first step for someone to be heard is for us to listen. We have to listen to their problems and challenges that they are facing. In most cases they aren’t going to volunteer this information. You have to investigate. You have to ask the probing questions because without understanding the challenges and the problems they have, you cannot truly solve them.
Ask about the company history. Ask about the challenges they have in their organization.
Ask about what went wrong with other projects. Ask about the common pitfalls. Ask if they could point out any post mortem or lessons learned documentation or any documentation at all, as the case so often is.
Only after we have this information, can we look back and use your experience, your history, your training and education and prescribe the correct course of action to administer the most effective treatment. You are an expert in the technology field. You understand the best practices to employ and what happens when they aren’t followed. Now, it should also be noted that true masters of any discipline also understand that you should never be dogmatic about rules and methodologies. If you truly understand the reasons why these rules, guidelines, methodologies and best practices exist, you can modify and customize them to fit any scenario you find yourself in. Be flexible, be agile, be “like water.”
Note: this is not a cure, this is corrective processes that have to be maintained. For a company to maintain and buy into this treatment, they need to be able to trust it. Which leads us into the last archetype.
The Third and Final Archetype: The Ambassador
When dealing with the customer during engagement, it’s important to remember you are an ambassador. You are the ambassador for your company and your company’s brand. You are the ambassador for your team. You are the ambassador for yourself. You are even the ambassador for your process, be it agile or a different methodology system you employ. Sometimes you are even an ambassador for the client themselves depending on the circumstance. Keep this in mind at all times and let this guide your decision making process.
Inhabiting these archetypes is not always easy to do. This job is not for everyone. In fact, I believe it’s only truly suitable for a small subsection of people. You are going to run into bureaucracy, politics, red tape, and unwritten rules and tribal knowledge. Accept that you won’t win every debate and they won’t listen to every opinion. At the end of the day, it’s their company and their right to do so.
Be humble and be magnanimous. Be courteous, overly friendly and kind, and go out of your way to be as helpful to others. Introduce yourself to as many people inside the company as possible and grow your network of connections. At the end of the day when you need help for your team or yourself, these are the people who are going to give it to you. After weeks, months, and years of a project, these same people who you serve become your colleagues, friends, and advocates. They will want to work with you again and again. That is how you truly satisfy a client.