A customer once asked me: “do you never have problems while you execute a project?” The answer was, and is of course, we ALWAYS have problems while we execute projects.
Why is this? There are three main reasons. The most important reason is that our customers are fast growing companies, most of them working on at least national if not an international or even global level. Take into account that a very common sales cycle in our business is six months or longer, and the execution of the project can easily take another nine months. This means that more than one year typically will have lapsed between our initial discussions and the moment the installation is ready. In the meantime, our customers will have launched new products, production machines will have evolved and changed footprint or location and so on. It is therefore highly unlikely the situation will be exactly as it was when we defined the project. This requires great skill and attention both for our project managers and for the customer. It sometimes happens that our customer does not appreciate the importance of certain changes, such as the design of a tray when overall dimensions remain the same.
The second reason is communication. We are in a technical environment and many technical people are not top communicators. This is undoubtedly true within our company, but of course our counterparts at the customer side – and indeed the supplier side – also tend to be technical people. To exaggerate a little bit, the joke is “in technology, there are two types of people: those who understand it, but do not manage it, and those who manage it, but do not understand it”. So now we have a substantial installation – most of the time mission critical – in a fast evolving environment and managed by people who have the best intentions of the world, but simply are not the best communicators of the world. To give a small example, we once had to make a small change to a touch panel which we did almost immediately. A few weeks later the customer called me angrily that it was “still” not done.
How things can go wrong: The English is clear enough to lorry drivers - but the Welsh reads "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.
The truth was, it HAD been done – weeks ago – but our guy who did it never told the customer. He went on site, made the change, and went happily home. Our customer of course did not check this panel every day to verify if by magic the issue was resolved. If your dishwasher is broken and you’re waiting for it to be repaired, I would assume you also would not check daily if by magic somebody fixed it – which is what I told our colleague.
The third reason is – alas – we also occasionally make mistakes. (To be perfectly honest, it is very rare, but even our customers sometimes make them but let us not talk about that). Yes, we are fallible. Projects are complex and demanding, and there are many very important criteria that we must take into account. It should not happen, but sometimes something gets overlooked…
The real question is not if we have problems while we execute a project, but how we solve them. The answer to that question is: with you, our customer.
Maarten van Leeuwen
Group Managing Director
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