I recently completed a short yet very intense (many long nights) engagement for a client with whom our team had constructed a portfolio optimization platform several months earlier. This initial project was a great deal of fun for me in that not only did I learn many new things, I also had the opportunity to interact with people in the highest offices of this company – including the CEO.
Fast forward a few months and we are called back to help modify our model inputs for the new fiscal year’s planning. The initial project took about 5 months, which included construction of the model framework from scratch. Our task now was simply to assess and modify the inputs through a series of interviews – obviously muss less time would be required.
We were called in to commence this exercise about two weeks before a final presentation was to be delivered by our client to their executive committee. Only one of my colleagues was on-site for the first few days and I was asked to join him for the next four. Upon completion of my contribution, my colleague remained fully engaged for the remaining 5 days or so. (By fully engaged, I mean 12, 14 or more hours per day.)
Here begins my life’s lesson from this experience. It took me no time to express my opinion that we were not managing client expectations well. I got the impression that when the client said jump we were merely asking how high and that we were not giving any attention to the art of expectation management. It quickly became apparent that not only would herculean efforts would be required to deliver on time but there was no room for anything to go wrong. (And we did contend with a very significant technical problem which brought our efforts to a halt for several hours.)
I shared my sentiments with my colleague and realize now that I had become a complaint in the matter. I do believe in the risks inherent in over-promising. Hindsight I believe provides a picture of how this could have been managed more effectively from the beginning.
What I lost sight of was the power of what we were accomplishing – nurturing and strengthening a relationship. I still contend that coming in sooner than two weeks before presentation delivery would have been much more appropriate. That aside, our commitment to help our client construct a meticulously detailed presentation has undoubtedly helped solidify our position as the “go-to” team for their needs in the areas in which we specialize.
I claim no credit for myself in our success here beyond my own effort in compiling new information. I have learned (again) that showing up as a complaint in the matter (even though in private and not hostile) was not responsible action. We demonstrated to the client that their interests where at the forefront. And we operated consistent with that. There is a fine balance between nurturing and strengthening a relationship by getting the job done and making promises and sacrifices that risk comprising one’s own needs.
I have much to learn about maintaining balance in this area and I am grateful that I had this opportunity to help me grow.