Culture vs Methodology

~ by Randy Wagner

How Client Culture Affects Methodology

One of the great challenges of managing a project with a client is ensuring that both the vendor and the client can work to their maximum potential. No two companies have the same culture and even departments within a company will vary. Understanding the overall culture and paying attention to the variations in how we apply methodology can make all the difference between a challenging project and one that flows smoothly to a successful result.

Company Size, Leadership, and History Influence the Nature of Operations

Every company has a culture that’s driven by some combination of leadership personality, history, geography, and necessity. Entrepreneurial companies need people who pivot to new challenges easily. Insurance companies tend to value risk aversion, inclusion, social responsibility, and tradition. Larger companies function differently than small companies.

The Goals of Individual Departments Drive Decisions and Priorities

There are subtle differences across departments within a company as well. Accounting prefers consistency over rapid adaptation. Underwriting needs to ferret out risks and reject exposures that could lead to adverse selection.  Marketing is all about supporting agents, adapting to industry changes and convenience for the customer. Differing goals drive behavior on how decisions are made, emails are written, and tasks are executed. They also drive the types of people they hire which directly affects culture and how work is done.

Work in a Way that Fits the Client’s Needs and Culture

As a vendor, we have tried and tested ways of running projects, but they have to work in a way that fits the client. Teams must adapt their processes and their expectations for each client to be successful.

Adapt the Process to the Customer’s Environment

A risk adverse customer will probably not be comfortable with a change control process where an idea is presented and a decision expected immediately. That client will likely prefer sending topics and notes in advance so that change options can be consumed and contemplated, and participants can have questions prepared prior to discussion and decision. It’s not so much about rigidity versus flexibility—it’s about adaptation to the environment of the customer.

Adjust Expectations According to Type of Client You Have

These factors cross the entire project spectrum from how involved senior executives are to reasonable expectations on email responses between team members. A more risk averse entity is likely to focus heavily on QA and User acceptance.  A company that lives by time-to-market needs functionality faster than closing out crossed Ts and dotted I’s. How much authority is delegated and how many cooks should be included in the kitchen? All of these vary by company and department.

Consider and Respect Regional Differences in Communication

Location also makes a difference. Terse communication may work fine in the Northeast US but may come across as rude in the South where congenial wording is more the order of the day. Each company may take a different approach to the priorities of Time / Quality / Functionality based on their culture. Forcing a methodology that runs people against their own nature will make them uncomfortable and make overall success less attainable.

Get to Know Your Client and Get Better Results

Project success is not just about a winning process. It’s about how you conform that process to the needs of the customer so that everyone reaches their potential without butting heads unnecessarily. Take the time in the early stages to observe the client and absorb their culture. It will drive execution of the methodology differently and will yield better results.

Randy Wagner is Director of Quality Assurance for CastleBay Companies. He has 20 years of consulting experience across private and public sectors, Guidewire InsuranceSuite, InsuranceNow, and Duck Creek, with specializations in quality assurance, configuration management, and automation.