We’ve all been there. The customer from #$@! That demanding squeaky wheel customer who wants what you don’t have in the product today and they want it yesterday. The customer who pushes your limits on scarce resources – people, time and costs. Then sitting on your side of the table, there are equal pressures. The account team that commits you to the inhumanly possible to satisfy their biggest customer. The development team behind the front lines who wants to pull on the breaks because of the competing requests on their time. And yet somehow, between managing everyone’s expectations and a stellar team, you deliver.
Product feature development should have an Outside-In point of view to be successful. Though there are more pro-active means of attaining a product that satisfies customer requirements. By conducting interviews with customers, market surveys, product support channels, and social streams. Shouldn’t this be the better way, than to deal with one-off requests from large customers?
Question is, when should we be responding to these individual requests and what’s the best way to deal with it?
When the customer is big enough
By big enough, I don’t mean the size of the customer’s business, but the size of the customer’s business with you. There are large companies that are accustomed to taking a strong approach to all vendors, even when they aren’t actually purchasing a lot from an individual vendor. If a customer is a significant part of your bottom line, then they do earn the right to make requests. Additionally, one mistake I’ve seen in the past is that vendors can give away the new features when they are perceived as a deal breaker. It is acceptable to request a commercial cost for the early enhancement delivery, even when there will be a possibility for reuse.
When what they are asking for makes sense and is reusable
Maybe I’m biased by delivering to large customers that then use the product to provide a service to end customers. These customers often understand the market you are delivering into just as much or more than you do. After all it’s their business too. If what they are asking for is something that makes sense to your product direction, and can be delivered in a way that it is not a one-of then there is value in evaluating whether to provide it in the customer’s project delivery timelines. Its win-win.
When you can deliver
Expectations need to be managed. A thorough requirements analysis and specification exercise needs to be conducted to agree the scope of the change. An impact analysis needs to be done to determine if it is feasible to do it in the timeframe. The project needs to be setup for success. Everyone needs to be informed of any constraints or risks in delivery.
When these criteria are not met, then it also makes sense to say no. Or rather than no, to say not now and use the regular product Outside-In feedback channels to have the request put on the product roadmap.