This blog was written by Michael Burns
Although I have provided consulting services for a long time and should know how to prevent problems, there is always a risk that they will occur. In this article/blog, I am going to share with you a problem I recently encountered.
A client needed a new ERP system and I helped them through the process. The client had a number of unique requirements and I did my best to be precise about them in the RFP. The vendor claimed that could handle the requirements without any customization. I basically told them I did not believe them and they were very upset. However they were able to demonstrate that they could handle the requirements without customization based on the RFP, discussions with the client and sample documents. The vendor was engaged to perform a needs analysis to firm up the costs and only then found that an expensive customization was required after all. Not only that, the customization could cost more when there were vendor upgrades.
The vendor claimed that one of the requirements was not clear to them. The requirements in question looked something like this:
- Amount = rate * quantity with rounding which varies by product group
- Calculated based on units and not the case
The vendor claimed that they did not realize that the 2nd requirement referred to the 1st requirement until they conducted their needs analysis. You can imagine how I felt about this. However, the client did have a good relationship with the vendor and the client did not want to engage in a fight with the vendor over this. We met with the vendor and I told them they had made a mistake, to which they accused me of throwing them under the bus. I told them that we all make mistakes and that the client was willing to move forward despite the mistake.
So what are the lessons learned? First, you can’t be too specific in defining requirements. Second, when setting up demonstrations, you need to have multiple scenarios for tricky calculations that can differ based on the inputs. At the same time, you can’t expect the vendor to demonstrate every possible scenario during the sales cycle. So there will always be a risk that there will be surprises later in the process as the vendor learns more about the business. The best you can hope for is to be working with a vendor that takes responsibility for their mistakes and does their best to rectify the problem. I have said to my kids many times that a person’s character is revealed when there is adversity and not when things are going well. So the 3rd lesson is not to just evaluate the system – it’s equally important to evaluate the vendor. When you speak to a reference, ask them how the vendor handled the inevitable problems.
Another lesson is to not to let your emotions get the better of you. I must admit that I was not happy when the vendor claimed that I had thrown them under the bus. But I bit my tongue mostly because the client wanted to have a good relationship with the vendor. However I am not sure if my emotions were written all over my face or were expressed in my body language or the way I spoke, which leads me to my last and 4th lesson for this article.
I have been told by a very wise man that what is heard is often very different than what was said. This happens to all of us when we are in a discussion/argument with someone and they get upset with us even though we think we did nothing wrong or said anything that was bad. But they hear something else based on how we said it. I am not sure if I will ever master the 4th lesson, but at least I am aware of unintended consequences.