Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Dedicated to Account Managers

Finally, the day came, when my career at HindiBrain is over. HindiBrain rather differs from anything before I have seen.

I remember my first question when I was employed here. The lady who came up with job offer called herself “account manager”. So I naturally asked “What does account manager?” How strange that I didn’t get strict answer until the very end of staying there.

So what is behind this peculiar position?

There is an explanatory document inside local wiki-look-like knowledge base (one of those funny documents which usually are NEVER read by anyone except who wrote them). I read that document twice, than another time … I concluded I’m lucky to find the most favorite position in our organization. Would you like to ask me why it’s the most favorite?

List of responsibilities is pretty obscure, but it generally covers business and relationship development but excludes delivery satisfaction scores from the partner as well as team satisfaction. So if I not mistaken everything that needed from site of AM is to check budget calculations and keep customer’s mood in fit. And only first is more or less measurable. The latter always can be appealed to delivery satisfaction scores, team satisfaction or “unfavorable environment”. It’s quite challenging to imagine situation when account manager will have to admit that customer dissatisfaction is only his fault and caused neither by deliver nor by bad team spirit.

Another advantage of this position is authority level: It’s equal to top management and can get any project related information.
Administrative power is substantial: development team has to submit the orders of AM irrespective to current state of the project and direct agreements with customer.
List of activities are narrowed by book-keeping and negotiations, activities like requirement analysis, development and acceptance testing is omitted.
And the final responsibility note (my favorite): The activities above do not necessary mean that AM is doing all of them, yet, it means that AM takes the ownership of these items and is primarily responsible for their successful completion. He/she may delegate the particular tasks to particular people within the delivery organization. So the precious thing is freedom to choose what you’d like to be responsible for …

How to become account manager?

You have to be good negotiator and avoid conflicts. Popular opinion among top manager is that this person should be capable to manager multiple projects (don’t forget to include this to CV), be able to speak with managers by using their slang (keep in mind all teams from UAT to CMMI). To some extend organization should trust that man, who is going to be account manager, which is gained by month of work on similar position within organization. This work is normally quite distant from team players and even if you are so lucky to become AM very quickly technical and team leading background is decaying and become weak by that time.
It was funny when AM was claiming to improve team’s performance on 20% just by introducing man responsible for configuration management. Indeed so funny when you’re in team, but customer usually gets better to see something is changed in development team during time of uncertainty.

Ultimate Yes-man.

Well why organization keeps position of secretaries with salary of top managers?
Directors are also people and do not like responsibility, so it’s better to have someone associated with account better than associate accounts with themselves. Customers are always complaining about something and there is necessary to have single contact to them
One of the top managers called this position “backdoor” for the customer. Customer should be sure that there is always another way to get things done. Getting things done in this case is normally to get something team can’t commit or deliver. This normally means to break existing agreements with team.
For instance, customer wants more features within the same time frame. Team always says: well, it’s possible, but we have already plan, so you have to provide us feature we can drop. On another hand, AM always says big solid “Yes” and try to handle something on team level. I don’t know the reason, but AM and management in this organization does believe that there are always methods to increase delivery output immediately. It’s very dubious especially if you keep in mind that there are two levels of management (project managers and team leads) who suppose to increase output on daily basis.

Can this job be done without jeopardizing team efforts?

Well, I know teams usually are not perfect, sometimes they really need some external help to improve their capacities. But this is challenging task for different people, so AM can do literally nothing. It’s better to assume that:

There is no way to immediately increase team performance in 10%

I know one organization about the same size as HindiBrain. They have just one account manager responsible for customer negotiations while we have dozen. Now in crisis their business is expanding, ours is shrinking. Just ask me why …
Their account manager has no power over teams at all. And he has no doubt that customer may have minor report about underlying projects, so he is doing only one way: reveal delivery scores and reconcile customer moods. So if customer comes up with statement “Your team is a bunch of the lazy piglets! You have to whip them properly!” is treated not as action item to perform Chrystal Nacht at team side, but as bad mood of customer. Assuming this by man with excellent negotiation skills can be very useful in organization ...