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20 June 2017

When Sales Promises Phantom Features

What should a Product Development or Project Manager do when Sales has sold the product with a feature that does not exist, Engineering does not plan to build it, and it is not in the SOW?

This is like bringing the boss home for dinner without telling your spouse.

In this case, the organization is broken. It is stovepiped, with Sales not considering other stakeholders within the organization.

Some would look at the Statement of Work (SOW) and draw a hard line, but that option often does not legally exist. The spoken word often binds the Seller.

My answer assumes traditional product development and project management. Agile developers have considerable flexibility with scope.

If you don't have a Change Management Process, create one. Your Product Roadmap, Project Management Plan, and product design may require significant rework that must be analyzed and documented. The presumptuous defenestration of all that planning incurs significant costs and delays because they have just altered your carefully optimized route.

Driving is a great metaphor, here. You invested significant creativity and expense in planning to add features and develop your market in a logical order. Now, you have to spend more budget and time on planning a new route that may take longer to get to the destination.

As a starting point for accountability, require Sales to submit a Change Request form that requires documenting the business case, costs, funding sources, risks, schedule impact, and technical impact and feasibility. This requires business analysis and coordinating efforts of many stakeholders such as the buyer, users, Product Development, Engineering, Production, Deployment, Scheduling, Contracts, Finance, Quality, and suppliers (through Purchasing). The change may be a "done deal," but Sales needs to stand before a Change Control Board (CCB) and gain an understanding of the consequences of their actions. When the borrowed experts from Engineering start charging against Sales' budget, even their managers will get the message.

Fulfilling the changes will require a combination of creative options.

  • Most people will compromise rather than spoil their relationship with your company by taking advantage of a loose-lipped salesman; so you may be able to negotiate a change to the contract based on re-prioritizing client needs.
  • Since the change may have value to other customers, management might accelerate investment in product development funding.
  • Consider dipping into Management Reserves and profits.
  • Bring in a Lean/Six Sigma team to find cost and schedule savings. (After that, have them help fix those stovepiped processes.)
  • If the Product Roadmap includes features not delivered to this customer, delay their development.
  • Look for features planned for the product but not promised to the Customer. They may be removed.
  • Sometimes, the penalties for breaking a contract cost less than fulfilling it. This is your worst option, but it is a valid option.

A well thought-out Change Request Form anticipates the areas that require investigation when instigating change. A well-designed Change Control process not only provides opportunity for characterizing changes, but also for creative thinking about the solutions to sticky problems. 

Copyright 2017 Richard Wheeler

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