Sunday, February 22, 2009

Applying Malcolm Gladwell to a Documentum Project

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell’s stories of successful people show a few concepts that can be applied to Documentum projects. These concepts explain how some individuals succeed and some fail. A successful project can point to these concepts as part of a successful pattern.

“Concerted cultivation”
Taking an honest interest in what the business customer really needs out of a Documentum content management system (beyond your personal business/monetary objectives) is what this is about. Fostering the open disclosure of issues the business would like to solve in an honest and transparent manner will go miles to making the project successful. If the issue is lack of accountability in tracking their processes, then they need workflow, not just Webtop and we'll see in the future if they need workflow. If the issue is that they want to convert from paper and be more productive, then they need scanning and basic classification, not just Author Integration Services.

Cultivate what the client will need to learn in order to appreciate the solution, do not hold back information in hopes establishing an on going support contract. If you don’t give enough knowledge transfer, the client will resent the issues it encounters and might blame you for not training them enough. If you don't document all of the potential issues that might come up, then the customer could point their finger at you and say "fix this for free".

Being the right person present at the right time
Chances are it wasn’t that you or your company won a Documentum project because of your raw talent, it was more likely that you had the right architect give the pre-sales demo or a contact at the company who you knew from a previous engagement, or some other connection to the company that won the work. Chances are even better that you happened to have previous experience that fitted well with what the company was looking for.

This brings up one of my issues with pre-sales. Most of us get paid when we’re working on a project, if we’re not we’re on the bench slaving over a state of work or a response to an RFP. Why don’t consulting companies realize that they need a research and development group just as much as a software company? It doesn’t have to be for product development, but solution development. Researching issues and developing solutions is what we do, but most of us solve issues on the project, write documentation and then we’re on to the next project. We don’t have what we need which is an occasional sabbatical to put the solution together and be able to truly work through the requirements, content, functionality, testing implementation, architecture, and most importantly the lessons learned. Once I was asked what types of content was part of a solution that I had only helped technically with, I couldn't answer for sure what types of content there were. This was because my time on the project was specifically allocated to deploy it to production, not to fully understand what the content was. This was sobering. I'm in this business to help solve content management issues and I was so caught up in the technology that I didn't even know what content was being managed...

“Mitigated speech”
It’s no secret that developers and architects from India are well trained and very talented in the computer science fields. What has taken me a while to understand is how a developer will communicate to an architect or project manager. He might ask a question like, “do you think the system is a little slow?” You might respond, “It’s not bad considering that it’s a QA environment. The developer might be downplaying what is being said, that is, he might really be saying “do some load testing you idiot or this solution might crash production when it’s released”. This is how “mitigated speech” works and it needs to be dealt with during the beginning of the project. Make sure you’ve created a few avenues for communication that wring out concerns clearly and effectively.

“It is those who are successful…who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success.”
Obviously, this applies to all project outcomes, however, you may think you’ve succeeded when in fact the business feels coerced into paying you the final amount due. During the final stage of a project, which includes stabilization and knowledge transfer, there may be times when giving a few extras days for free gives a nice feeling to the customer. If the stabilization of the project is bumpy, like most are, beware of saying “this is not in the budget, we won’t do it without getting paid.” This kind of approach during a time when the customer is stressed out and any problems are easily blamed on the solution provider will not result in the kind of return business that would be achieved if you went the extra mile for free. Letting the customer push you around a little at the end may help extend the support contract until a further project comes along. These days a customer needs to fell like they’re getting a deal on your services. Make them feel that way…

The success of a project is not because of the one person or the architect or the design, it is because of the overall efforts of everyone involved, the timing, the company culture, the governance, mutual trust, and confidence in each other. One project’s success could catapult your whole company into phenomenal success, but it was a combination of experience, who you know, how much you’ve practiced, and whether you were in the right place at the right time. And luck.

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