Article by Dan Pennell, CEO of WMtek

I love adventure and I really love Europe. So does my oldest son. For that reason we decided to take a grand adventure for his senior trip. We flew to Switzerland to spend a week exploring and our trip came with an interesting twist.

We had absolutely no plan.  

I reserved a beautiful little Audi and booked our first night’s stay at a hotel in Northern Italy.  After that, our idea was to finish each day by making a decision about where we would go the next day.

Our journey led us through a 14,000 foot high mountain pass in white-out conditions. We motored down the coast of Italy enjoying midnight cold cut sandwiches by the sea. We posed for selfies in Rome and cruised to Florence where we procured fine Italian leather jackets and played pinball with motor scooters. We spent a day driving in the Alps where my son drove 100 mph for the first time on the way to Paris.  

We had a grand adventure indeed. Finding ourselves in Zurich on the last day, we decided to do something completely American. We went to the movies. We entered the dimly lit theatre with plenty of time before the movie began. It was mostly empty. We found our way to the best seats in the house. Half way up and half way in. Perfect.  

Then Something Interesting Happened

A rather large military-looking dude entered the theatre with his female companion in tow.  They made their way through the empty theatre and directly to our isle where they moved in until they stood right in front of us. He had a freshly shaven and glistening head. She had a knowing smirk.

He began to address me angrily in German (is there any other way to speak German other than angrily?).  

I had no idea what he was saying. I only knew he was really agitated. Finally I mustered up the nerve. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak whatever language it is you are yelling at me with”.  His brows furrowed. My son looked at me hastily -- have you lost your mind?  

The militant German broke the silence with a thick accent, “You are sitting in our seats” as he held up his tickets and pointed to the seat numbers on them.

Holy cow. Are you kidding me? Movie theatres in Switzerland assign seats? I’ve never heard of such a thing. And then, as I glanced around the otherwise empty theatre the absurdity of it all hit me.  “I’m sorry man, would you like us to move?” Begrudgingly he said “no” and they slowly took their seats. Right next to us. And we all watched the movie. Together. Awkwardly.

It was a funny experience and it offers several lessons that apply well to technology projects. We weren’t familiar with the culture. We didn’t understand the language, and we had no idea what the rules were.  

Large organizations can present the same challenges to the vendors they work with. Each organization has a unique culture, language and rules of engagement. From unique organizational structure to an overwhelming use of acronyms, it can be a big job for any vendor to fit in well.  

If a vendor working on a complex project does not understand your culture, your language and your rules they will fail. And when they fail, your stakeholders will become large, militant, shaved-headed Germans who wear all black and shout obscenities in an unintelligible tongue. Trust me, nobody wants that.

At our company, WMtek, we are serious about understanding the culture, language and rules of our clients. We want our partner’s technology initiatives to be successful. It’s important. Our partners are doing the work of the Kingdom, and we have a responsibility in the matter.  

How about you? Are you serious about taking the time and making the effort to help your vendors become “insiders” in this regard?

Here are three quick suggestions you might keep in mind:

  1. Introduce new vendors to the nuances of your organization, including internal knowledge about how key stakeholders think and how the chain of command works.

  2. Add a Glossary of Terms to the first Business Requirements Document you provide to vendors so they can understand your “insider speak” and Acronyms without confusion.

  3. Negotiate the rules of engagement early. If you have very specific non-negotiables, such as the project management software that will be used, reveal your wishes before the contract is signed.

Most importantly, be flexible.  

Sometimes vendors can introduce new culture, language and rules that will make your organization better. Make it a point to consider what they have to offer in this regard.

Your culture, language and rules really do influence the success of your technology projects. Give it some thought, and until next time, ”Gute Reise”.

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About the Author

Dan Pennell is the founder and CEO of WMtek. A primary focus for Dan is consulting with NPO's to identify organizational challenges and implement solutions, especially in the area of business workflow and enterprise-wide technological deployment. If you are interested in bringing Dan to your organization for consultation please fill out the form below and we will be in touch with you shortly. Thanks!