Look for the itch
I was doing some work for a small trucking company helping their programmer update their operating system. That's a task that involves more waiting than real work, so I had a chance to listen to other people talking.
The programmer had apparently been working on new application software for about a year. Some of it was in place, but the people using it still had to use the "old" system for many things.
There was one particular thing that the old system did well but the new system didn't, and that was the rather mundane task of finding a customer's record by telephone number. Obviously (well, obvious if you know anything about programming) that shouldn't have been a difficult thing, but the users were complaining and asking when they'd have that ability in the new system. The programmer seemed annoyed, and had obviously had this question before. "I'll get to it", he said, "but I'm in the middle of screen design for the end of year stuff right now".
Hmm. End of year? This was May. "Fiscal year ends soon?", I asked. The programmer frowned. 'No, I mean December."
I didn't say any more, but I thought to myself: "That's a big itch for these people and he's ignoring it". He ignored it because it wasn't important to him - he didn't have to look up customers by telephone number for any of his testing and debugging, so it was low priority for him.
That trait is hardly unique. Right now we have a house full of painters and carpenters. Three weeks ago they took the railing off our stairs to patch and paint the wall behind it. The paint dried, but the railing stayed off. No itch for the contractors, but when I'm coming downstairs in the middle of the night, it's a big itch for me. We mentioned this over and over, and were constantly assured that it would be done "today", but it never was.
This morning as the crew tromped in, I stopped them at the door. "Nobody is doing anything until that railing goes up", I said. The lead guy again said "Oh we'll do that today, I promise". I said no, it was going to be done now, and that was it. He wasn't happy about doing it, but a few minutes later my itch was scratched and I let him get his crew back to work.
Don't ignore your customer's itches. Listen for them, try to put yourself in their shoes, and scratch those itches just as soon as you possibly can.
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