IT & Project Management

IT Projects – Think bigger picture. The fine line between over and under delivery

IT & Project Management
IT & Project Management

There’s a fella used to go in a local fish and chip shop.

Run with me on this.

It must have been every week because he was always there whenever we decided to have a chippy tea on a Friday.

For about the last month though, he hasn’t been in the queue.

I don’t know his name but we had got quite friendly in that way that you do with strangers who you see regularly in the same place. His order usually costs around £35 and always qualifies for a free bottle of fizzy pop – the reward for being a big spender! The last time I saw him he explained how he drives 13 miles to this chip shop! His family must REALLY love those chips!

As well as over delivering with a bottle of cola, the chip shop has a “special” meal deal, a portion of fish and chips and a side (mushy peas, gravy, curry or beans) for a bargain, discounted price. Our man always orders at least three of these specials. The last time he asked the owner if he could have the sides in separate polystyrene pots because the sauce makes the fish and chips soggy on the long drive back home.

So … the customer who spends £35 a week in your shop AND drives a 26-mile round trip, asks you if you value their business enough to provide three little pots to improve their experience of your service. What would you say? By the way, I Googled disposable takeaway sauce pots they are £17.50 for a 1000, so about 5p for the three. It’s a NO BRAINER, right?!

The chip shop owner said, “No.”

Then, after a moments reflection, added, “Well we can but we’d have to charge you extra.”

The customer, who had just paid more than £30 when he placed his order, looked disappointed but placing more value on the crispy batter and crunchy chips than a handful of loose change, he agreed.

The order was prepared, then three scoops of mushy peas and gravy were decanted into polystyrene pots and the customer fished some change from his pocket ready to hand over for the tubs.

“That’ll be £2.70”, said the chip shop owner.

He had not charged this repeat customer for three little pots but for three whole portions of sauce (that were part of the meal deal he’d already paid for). Why? Because the little pots weren’t “an item on the till”.

The customer had to break into a £20 note!

As the chip shop owner counted out the change the customer told him that how disappointed he was, how his expectation of being charged extra was different to the reality and that he would not be returning.

I’ve never seen him since.

The point is you can have the best chips in town, worth driving the equivalent of a marathon to buy, you can have all the discounted specials, all the rewards for spending big, but if you leave an unpleasant taste in your end user’s mouth – they won’t be back.

I’m sharing this because I just saw exactly the same scenario start to play out in an IT Project.

A vendor delivering a part of the Project has reacted to a scope creep in a similar way to how the chip shop owner responded to a request for sauce pots. ‘Kerching’! I mean if the vendor were a cartoon character you would see dollar signs in their eyes and hear the sound effect of a till! It’s actually quite surprising as they have a track record of really over delivering and having a ‘can do’ attitude.

Now, I accept that when a scope goes walkabout sometimes there are associated costs and I accept that someone has to cover those costs … but think bigger picture!

If I had been the chip shop guy I’d have made the customer feel special, I’d have winked and said, “We don’t do it for everyone – but as it’s you!” I’d have swallowed the 5p extra expenditure. Similarly, if I’d have been this IT vendor, I’d have realised that the scope creep isn’t actually a huge deal … I mean cost wise it’s negligible, resources-wise it’s achievable without operational pain.


In this instance, it actually could also lead to the creation of a whole new product service and revenue stream for the vendor. It’s the kind of issue that lots of similar projects will face in the future and by being part of the solution here, they will have a ready-made, off the shelf solution when it does crop up elsewhere.

What a great opportunity to build trust, make the client feel special, wink and say “We don’t do it for everyone – but as it’s you!”

They could treat the exercise as a chance to learn and develop a lucrative new string to their bow.

However, the client isn’t tech savvy, has got deep pockets and (above all else) trusts the vendor.

Instead, they have decided to fleece the client for some short-term gain. They’re taking advantage of their client’s technical naivety and charging them way over what the scope creep will actually cost them and, even worse, I think that they have totally missed the potential revenue this could deliver in the future.

Just like the chip shop customer, this vendor risks losing their client when they find out the level to which they are being overcharged and undervalued.

You’re in business to make a profit. Me too. A little integrity goes a long way!

In conclusion, I see the takeaway pots scenario often in IT Project Management and it’s not always as literal as this.

Sometimes, after months of over-delivery, it’s just some little, unattended detail that has a major effect on project delivery or the perception of a successful outcome, it might be an unidentified and/or unaddressed capability gap, or it could be a lack of or poorly allocated resources. Often these Project teams are good people who would (and do) bend over backwards and jump through metaphorical hoops of fire for their clients – the trouble is that all this counts for nothing when that little, unattended detail flares up and sinks delivery of your project.

It can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture by focussing in on a momentary thumbnail but you should never allow a habit of great over delivering to get lost by a moment of under delivery.

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