Storytelling: Once Upon A Time…

Photo by SplaTTPhoto by SplaTT

The longer you stay in project management, the more stories you have to tell about your experiences.  Of course, some stories are worth repeating, while others you would sooner try to forget. Here’s one story I will never forget.

When you work for a company that survives on competitive bidding, you try to develop lifelong partnerships with your clients. In doing so, the clients often expect you to bid on every contract they believe you are qualified for, regardless of whether or not you want it.

The story involves a new material that was created by another company. A similar material was developed by my company, but testing concluded that it was not as durable as the material we were currently using in the products we created for our clients.

My boss, the vice president for engineering, called me into his office and instructed me to bid on a contract for one of our most important clients. The vice president stated,

“Our client has asked us and three other companies to bid on this contract and see if the new material created will work well in the products we produce.”

I agreed to prepare a proposal, but as I was about to leave, the vice president remarked,

“Just between us, the client wants the testing to show that the new material will not work well because they want to continue using the existing products with the existing material.  In other words, the project must be a failure.  Furthermore, I do not want to win this contract because it’s not in our best interest and I don’t have anyone available to assign to it.  Don’t spend a lot of time preparing the proposal – just prepare a quick-and-dirty proposal and push the price out of sight.”

I understood what he wanted. I rushed through the effort to create a proposal and increased the cost to an exorbitant price that would guarantee that one of our competitors would win the contract. My job was done.

A few weeks later, the vice president for engineering asked to see me.  As I entered his office, he was laughing and stated,

“We won the contract I told you we did not want to win. I guess all of the competitors pushed their price up higher than we did because they had a greater desire not to win it. Now, because I have no resources to give you, how do you plan to get the job done by yourself?”

The vice president must have had pity on me because he assigned one of his best workers to assist with the contract. When the contract was finally completed, the test results showed that the new material would work better than our existing material.  Now the vice president was no longer laughing.

There are several morals to this story:

•          Winning a contract can be a losing proposition.

•          Losing a contract can be a winning position.

•          Never underestimate how eager your competitors are to win or lose a contract.

•          If the intent is to show that something will not work, then someone will figure out a way to show that it will work, and perhaps better than expected.

•          Winning a contract with an incredibly large profit margin does not guarantee that the results will satisfy the client.

•          If you want to be successful as a project manager, then expect the unexpected.

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