Make It Easy To Give You An “A”

November 24, 2009

Test grade

As CEO of Code Sourcery, a small high-tech company, Mark Mitchell wants to make it easy for all of his customers to give his team an A. He manages over 30 employees working from home offices around the world and all of his engineers work closely with customers. They also take on project management responsibility.

Mark faces a tough problem. His team works all over the world and are all very technical Linux and GNU toolchain hackers. These are some really techie guys. They aren’t project managers. To make it a little more difficult, most of them will never meet the customer face-to-face. Mark’s strategy for delighting customers with his technical workforce starts with a simple mantra: make it easy for the customer to give you an A.

Stuart Shieber, one of Mark’s professors at Harvard, started every course by giving his students a simple goal, “Make it easy for the graders to give you an A.” Mark runs his business on this principle.

Making it easy to give you an A means not just knowing your stuff, but showing your stuff. When Mark was at Harvard that meant getting the right answer and showing how he got there. Leaving no doubt in the professor’s mind that he knew what he was talking about. At Code Sourcery Mark’s team works with customers throughout the project, giving them constant updates about their status, achievements, and difficulties.

Mark inspired me to come up with my own list for how to make it easy for your manager, team, and customers to give you an A:

Update your status often. Never leave your customers in the dark about what you are doing or make them worry you might miss a deadline.

Talk about problems. When you do have problems –and you will– talk about them early. Let the customer know what is giving you trouble, how it will affect your project.

Talk about testing. Tell your customers what you are doing to test the product. Show them a test plan. Seeing how the product is tested makes customers feel more confident.

Show your work. Don’t expect the customer will know how something works or why it is cool. Explain it to them.

Document your work. Nothing is finished until it is documented.

Take feedback. Everything the customer tells you about the product is important. That doesn’t mean you should make every change they ask for, but take every suggestion seriously and show your customer that you are listening.

You may not work directly with the people paying the bills, but we all have customers. Your customers are your manager and your manager’s boss. They are your product manager and the CEO of your company you want to impress with your project. Your team are also your customers. Make it easy for all of your customers to give you an A.

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