This week on Freaky Friday: Catching the flying pigs

brought to by Vlad Radulescu

In an ecommerce company I know as a PM, we had a running joke. Hopefully, many of you can remember a classical Simpsons episode, with Homer running around to catch his flying pig for the barbecue. In this episode, driven by appetite and hunger, Homer takes terrible risks and for several times, he hurts himself badly. But he never gives up, even as the flying pig escapes him many times over, getting dirtier and unsavory in the process.
OK, it’s funny, but why do I tell you of an old cartoon, and what’s the connection to ecommerce?

Well, Homer wouldn’t be such a popular (anti)hero if not almost anyone of us could recognize a part of his personality or life in this clumsy but likeable fellow. Ecommerce companies (like most other IT companies) seem to use a sizable part of their time and resources trying to catch the ideas and proposals made by their clients. Nothing bad with that. But quite often the quality of these proposals remembers myself of Homers flying pig, especially when I see the companies reaction to these creative, but premature ideas thrown over the fence by their clients. Seldom evaluating the risks, spending little to no thought on the ROI, they accept any idea presented, and start running.

Many such “flying pigs” are too far from mature, without any description or research, and, in the end, often not worth the time and effort, neither for us, nor our clients. Clients I worked with used to start an IT Project by a simple mail, describing an idea for a new shop feature in 5 lines. Based on this, they expected us to give an estimation on development time, create a prototype within this (first estimated) time, while they weekly (often even daily) changed or extended the requirements and conditions at will with just another 2 lines mail. I just had to feel like Homer, running after the flying pig, and the pig escaping me any time I got close to catch it.
And as Homer finally lost his flying pig, more than one of these “projects” ended even before going live, as they proved not to perform to the expected level.

But our ecommmerce company, driven by fear, didn’t protest. We kept running, excusing our cartoon-like behavior with an ever-hitting argument: our ecommerce world is full of Homer Simpsons, and they will catch OUR pig if we don’t! And as long as we try to catch them, the flying pigs will keep coming!

In the end, many clients are not even to blame. Sometimes, they even don’t know it better, and it’s not even their business to know the IT. The cases where an ITService Management expert is sitting in the clients chair are still rare, most ecom Shops are led by financial or marketing experts, with little or no experience in IT outsourcing projects. And in the end, outsourced shops are exactly that; IT outsourcing projects.
There are as many solutions to this dilemma as there are ecommerce partnerships, and none is foolproof, or a stand-alone option. Some can be as simple as motivating the client to hire a good IT Service Management consultant, other as tedious as implementing ITSM processes (ITIL is just one example) in our own company, and mature our clients along with us.
But whatever solution you chose, you should try to watch the flying pig from the only acceptable position: as a spectator.

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