Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Legend of the Purple Squirrel

Part II

Being a virtual team we had people stationed all over the country. I lived in Georgia, my primary Sales Engineer lived in Providence, and our corporate office was in Boston.

A few years ago, in the middle of summer, our inside team finds an opportunity at a DC non-profit organization. This was a common event that was made special by the first phone call "Yeah, we meant to call you guys, but we forgot, but we have you scheduled for an onsite presentation this Wednesday".

"Whoa" was my initial response. Without giving us any written requirements, 36 hours notice, and no real contact to any of the decision makers, we were supposed to assemble our team and come into their organization and be relevant to their project based on one phone call. A project whose requirements where not going to be documented until after our first presentation. Lovely.

Frankly I wanted to take a pass, but unfortunately, it would have taken more effort to get out of going, than actually doing the meeting.

So Cahill and I meet up in DC, in July, wearing suits, looking suave, and with the lowest G.A.D. (Give A Damn) factor imaginable.

Its interesting, when your G.A.D. factor is that low, you come across as extremely confident. So confident in fact that when we met the project lead, who happened to be French, we corrected his English on our way into the board room.

We enter the board room and the consultant leading the evaluation(the one who was late on documenting the requirements) politely introduces herself and gives us the instructions. There was to be two segments to the presentation; "business requirements" and "technical requirements". She would monitor the questions during the demonstration and only the appropriate questions should be answered in each section. To clarify, if a technical question was asked during the business portion of the presentation, we were not to answer, but she would right down the question and we answer during the technical portion.

We had made reservations and announced to the consultant that we had a lunch meeting down the street from the Capital and would be finishing fifteen minutes earlier than the allotted time. She nodded her head in approval.

So the team for the Business portion of the requirements files in. Very nice people. After a brief conversation I realized it was the consultant's lack of performance that has caused the mad rush. But the G.A.D. factor still remained in the cellar.

We gave one of the most sincere, straight-forward presentations of our lives that afternoon. "No, our software doesn't do that", "I wouldn't try that if I were you, it will be expensive", and ,my favorite, "Our competitor does a better job in that area". I don't know if you ever had the Porterhouse at the Capital Grille in DC, but yeah, its worth it and I didn't want to be late.

During our meeting, no less than 20 times, our responses were interrupted by a shrill "Don't Answer!, Please save that for the technical portion!!!!". In fact the consultant stopped our presentation to scold the evaluation team (the people that were paying her) that they should limit their questions to only the topics listed on the requirements document (the one they told us that didn't exist 36 hours earlier).

So fine, we power through the business requirement, being polite, professional, and very succinct.

Finally, the consultant announces that we have reached the end of the business requirements. We were to take a 5 minute break and allow the technical team enough time to file in, and the business team to file out.

So we grab a coke, check our watches, and expect a mad rush of people.

One person gets up to leave.

And that's it.

No other people come in.

The exact same people are on both teams. The one who left was a secretary who was curious to what a content management system could do.

An group eye roll commenced in the direction of the consultant as we continued on.

We thanked everyone for their time. I had my steak, and we left DC.

Two days later we learn the evaluation was down to us and Microsoft. Microsoft hadn't actually shown up for their presentation, they barely returned phone calls, and no one at the client actually had seen the product. But they did know that it was doing the site for the XBox, so it had that going for them. (Disclaimer: My Microsoft stock is underwater right now, please buy as much Microsoft as you can).

So it was my team, who had jumped through hoops, paid prime travel dollar, and had 3 days invested in this, vs. Microsoft who was almost too busy to talk to the client in the final round.

It was time for the Purple Squirrel.


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