The Cost of Not Asking the Right Questions

Here is my own real example of not asking the right customer questions, or worse, thinking I had asked the right questions, but still ending up with a project situation that took longer and cost more than anticipated. This is a reminder that if we want to be profitable and have great customer satisfaction, projects need to be done right the first time, and that means asking the right questions upfront and not assuming anything.

A while back I was asked by a colleague to help setup their new computers and network. Now while I have reasonable technical knowledge, I am not an engineer, but would consider myself to be quite competent around SMB PC networking, security and associated applications a sales/solution level.

First mistake! While it is important to back you own ability, never underestimate the challenge of keeping up with evolving technology or new products and how they work together.

The brief sounded simple enough. Help setup the home/home office network with faster switches, wireless networking to take advantage of newer technology and machines. However digging a bit it started to get more complex. In addition as a result of the increase in speed there was now a new “application” of viewing of multimedia files (photo’s, music, video) from the PC in the office via a media server in the living area and so onto home theatre equipment.

One other problem identified was that there was poor wireless network coverage in the living area as all the IT equipment was in the office area on the other side of the house and it was “old” 802.11b/g. Not a problem! Both the multimedia requirement and the house were relatively new and there were structured Ethernet/phone outlets in that room to service this via Ethernet cable.

I drew up a diagram and discussed the design with my colleague before he ordered the equipment. It showed the multimedia connected to the cabling and a “new” 802.11n wireless access point in the office to improve coverage and speed to the living area. Mistake 2

While this all worked when assembled it did not solve his problem. Yes we got blazing wireless “n” speed and coverage in the living room, if using a notebook. However he had an application for his iPhone that acted as a smart remote control for his multimedia equipment and the iPhone does not support the newer wireless “n” standard, only the older wireless “b/g”. Now I find out about this. Oops.

Now worries put in an old “b/g” wireless router I had spare to give both coverage and additional cabled ports in the living room. No good, as the living room multimedia equipment had to be on the same IP range as the host PC, which was not possible due to equipment/cabling issues. Back to the design phase again and the purchase of another wireless access point to place in the living room and link the two together wirelessly instead.

I have not covered the migration of the data to the new machines and setting up the storage device, or even the fun of updates, patches, cable mismatches etc. It eventually all ended well as my colleague understood that he was pushing the envelope with his applications, and was a little “different” to the average. Suffice to say if this was a paying customer I would have made little if any profit and could have potentially jeopardised any repeat business.

Lessons learnt:

  • Never assume anything – always ask
  • Don’t expect the customer to understand the technology – sometimes they will say “yes” but their vision or expectations may not match reality
  • Do your preparation carefully about the project time and cost – it is better to err on the side of caution, than to blow the budget and time frame (remember the old adage of “under promise and over deliver”)