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Frustration by Design

Heather Grace, Guest post. 13 February 2017, 6:54 am
Frustration by Design

Have you got your magic wand ready? This year you will have to use it many times, or it may feel that way. Today we are talking about designing a product that will make a customer really happy. A product that does what it is supposed to do, it is finished on time, on budget and the project goes so smoothly that everybody involved is smiling and happy from beginning to end. Sound like a fairy tale? Read on.

Before you ask - no, I don't have a magic wand. But I can give you some useful tips about the pitfalls to avoid and how to get a better result.

What is the most common issue that causes project failure? It is not the technology - that accounts for only about 4% of project failures. So, what goes wrong the rest of the time? The answer: Poor communication. That's it. Everything comes down to communication! 

Let's have a closer look. 

You have a meeting with a customer and get a description of what they are looking for. The functionality required, the problems they have now that will be solved by this new product, who will use it, who will benefit from it, and so on. Next, you write a proposal to do the work, which gets accepted after however many steps in that process. Then it is over to you and your team to deliver.

By then it is sometime later. Your initial discussions may have been months ago. Your contact in the customer organisation is very busy and hard to get hold of. Other people in the customer organisation take over the lead on communication. Suddenly there is a committee of people to answer to, each with their own ideas. The goal posts seem to be shifting.

In your own team, you have a meeting about the scope of the work, team members come up with questions that need to be answered. How will this new product or features impact on the other parts of the business? Does it need to talk to the accounting system? What about logistics and sales and reporting?

There is pressure to deliver by an agreed time frame. Shifting goal posts from the customer. Lack of understanding internally, new technologies, guesswork, creative input, long hours and pressure to meet KPI's. 

Millions of dollars are spent this way and what is the result? Very often the result is a wonderful product full of all sorts of features - but it is not what the customer really wanted. Oh -and along the way, we have created a product that was rushed through the design and testing to meet deadlines, so it also has issues to be resolved. This results in high support costs and frustrated users. That doesn't sound like a great way to run a profitable business. But it happens, all the time.

The missing link in all of this is good communication. You need:

  1. Excellence in internal communication so the right people have the right input and can create something that works the way it is supposed to. Your team needs to be a well-oiled machine - a cohesive unit. No infighting, no misunderstanding, no one protecting their ego, and an environment where it is OK to speak up to voice concerns and get them resolved.
  2. Customer collaboration and excellence in customer communication so that the customer owns the milestones and the outcomes of the project all the way through. Realistic expectations. Honest and transparent reporting. A free flow of information and advice. And adjustments to agreed timeframes and project costs.

NB: Choose your customers wisely. A customer that calls all the shots, expects you to jump through hoops and keeps shifting the goal posts may not be worth the frustration. Unless they are willing to pay you for the extra resources and agree to extended deadlines - you are better off looking for a different customer.

It all comes down to education. Educate your customers on how you operate, what you expect of them and what they can expect from you. Educate your teams on how to communicate effectively with each other and with the customer.

Remember, only around 15% of your success is due to technical know-how. The other 85% of your success comes from how you communicate with each other.

How many projects will fail this year? How many projects will lose money this year? How many unhappy customers will be frustrated with tech companies this year? Plenty. Just make sure that you are not in those statistics.

Success With Grace is home of the TechBiz Success Academy, coaching and training to help technology based businesses grow. For information about TechBiz programs go to Also check out Business Communication and Customer Communication workshops in


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jiveen macgillivray 01 March 2017, 9:42 am

Might you have or know where I might find any information about how project failure might be impacted by other events (communicated or not)?

For example, legal injunctions on the content that was meant to be used in the software game project or perhaps the project that fails because a customer increasingly becomes more interested in disputing the contract.

While this question might not apply as much to short term or low cost projects I'm still interested in the experience of small businesses/owner managers. I'm definetly not referring to large projects by multinationals or government institiutions etc.

Thanks for the post and considering the request

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