Is a training program always the answer to the challenges of client communication?
Hello, everyone. I’m Jennifer Kumar from Authentic Journeys and many may be surprised that I’m asking that question because I actually deliver communication, leadership and cross-cultural training specifically for software development teams in India that work with US Clients.
You might be thinking, well, what would that question defeat the purpose? Yes and no.
So, I mean, besides training, which obviously in a good thing and a lot of cases and obviously I endorse it because that’s where my bread and butter is, but it’s not always the answer. In 25% of the cases, it’s not the answer or it’s an answer along with training. So, what do I mean by that?
Someone comes to me with the business problem. Hey, my software developers working with US clients just can’t seem to build trust with them. And, when it comes to the client actually asking for a change to the project… scope of the project, maybe they need to add a feature or they want to do this with less time or whatever the change is…. my team can’t communicate with them properly. I always have to get involved and everything becomes an escalation. So how do I solve this? What training program do you have for me?
Sometimes it’s a training program and training can really help, especially if your software development team in India does not have a cultural context to the US culture. There are definitely things we can do in training, but…there are other things that training cannot answer. So, as I get into some of these projects and now I’ve kind of learned how to avoid some of these pitfalls in my own process, right.
Is that it’s the process of the startup company I’m working with that is nonexistent or it’s broken. So, what do I mean by that?
Well, let me go back to defining startup company. I work with a majority of startup companies in [Kerala,] India, I.T., software in the software industry, for example. Now, when someone comes to my website, sometimes they get confused because they see some big brand and logos there. But actually, a majority of the companies I work with are startup companies in India with 10 to three hundred or so employees. And sometimes these companies are a little shy to share that they’ve worked with me, which is understandable [due to] confidentiality. So that’s why a lot of the logos may not show up on the Authentic Journeys’ website. It’s not that I haven’t worked with startup companies or that I work with predominantly large companies. In fact, I don’t work with predominantly large companies. I work predominantly smaller startup companies, which of course the culture of the startup is to get right in there and start working. So oftentimes these processes, rules, regulations are somewhat missed or they maybe haven’t been developed in the way that would encourage fluid communication, client communication. So what do I mean by that?
[Here I am reiterating what clients may sat to me…]So if I just take this example of the client is coming in and demanding a change and my team does not know how to handle that situation. So I always, as a team leader, Project Lead or Scrum Master, have to come in and talk on their behalf. It’s really wasting a lot of my time. I need to go do other things. I need you to train my team to communicate more effectively.
Of course we can do that. But what if there’s never a process in place for change requests?
Actually, that simple thing is often missed in many of the startup companies I work with. So then I become a consultant. It’s not just, you know, the training, which still is helpful, but oftentimes maybe we don’t need that training because there are a lot of problems with training. Right. So can we get everyone on board? Does everyone have time to attend the training? When can they attend? Can we coordinate it when they are have downtime from their client work? Because obviously that takes priority and things like that happen. Right. So sometimes it’s the process that’s not there at all that needs to be put in place or it’s a faulty process. And so, you know, we have to take a step back.
Why is the process important? Why is it important? And do you have any thoughts around why that could be important? Well, of course, the first thing that comes up is why it’s not important, it’s irritating another set of paperwork or digital communication to follow through on, which, of course, we’re really irritated with now, now that everyone’s working from home right now, a lot more emails and digital communication to actually follow through on. But actually, when you think about it from the client perspective, think about it from the client perspective. First of all, a lot of clients are not technical.
They don’t understand the process of software development. So you might have to educate a little bit around whether you use Waterfall… Agile. What are all the different sections, roles and rules of that software development process. So within that software development process, especially if you use Agile, most of my clients go through Agile processes and ceremonies and things like that. “Change is the name of the game” to use an idiom, right.
So we know that there will be change. It’s going to be a chaotic environment. Software development requirements change very frequently. But obviously there are some things that whether they’re required or nice to have, we would want to use a change request process for that. So you would need to sit down and create this process and think about how you would communicate this to the client in the kickoff meeting, maybe.
It’s important to have a kickoff meeting. Clients are not technical – they not only not need to know about the software development process and how it will be implemented with daily stand up meetings and all of those kind of things, retrospectives, whatever other ceremonies are using as agile ceremonies. But they also need to know if they want to change, what’s the best way to go about that? Should they just contact you directly? Do they need a change request? How would they go about that process? What kind of things would have to go on a change request? And, then you might be wondering why the change request necessary? Do I really need that? Well, let me give you a case study.
[00:06:51] OK, so I was actually called in to a company to give a training on how to handle negotiations in everyday project meetings. So this negotiation is not a sales negotiation, obviously, which is what a lot of people think of when they hear the word negotiation. Here, it’s more convincing, pushing back, influencing, being assertive and really being able to not only clearly communicate and enunciate what is happening in a project, why certain things may or may not work, why certain features may or may not work in a certain type of development environment, etc., but also, since I work cross culturally how to use English in a culturally appropriate way with US Americans. And there are differences between Indian English and American English. So we talk about those things. And, I did the training and it went well and for individuals were went from not being able to deliver a demo to delivering the demo and also being able to influence clients during these project discussions. But while going through this entire training program, I was also consulting with that company and found out that there was no change request process in place. There was some, of course, some resistance to even thinking about that. Not another process, not any more red tape. We just… We’re just a small company. Why do we need this? Anyway… I was able to influence and convince them to try it out.
So they came up with that on their own, their own change process. And I helped kind of inculcate that into the team communication strategy. They also used this process in the kickoff meeting to kind of describe to the clients coming on board what is not really agile software development, but processes. But how if you need to make changes during this this software project, which is inevitable, how do you do that with us? And how do you when do you need a change requests and how do you do that with us? So they tried this out as a test run with two or three projects. And a couple of months later, I came back and I asked them, you know, how is this going? Right. So here, here’s the outcome. And it’s pretty impressive, actually. Nobody expected this, right, because nobody wanted to do it initially. So they said, well, it was hard. It was really hard to not only think about our change request process and what it was and how to implement it and what to do and how to train our employees on it, and not just the software development team, but how to communicate this to the client. But we figured all that out with some of your assistance previously and three months have gone by. It’s been a learning curve for us and the clients and also to figure out which things we need to change request for which we don’t. And that will continue to be a learning process.
[00:09:49] But what we’ve realized is that actually, especially working with US clients, I think we think that they really enjoy that process. They they like to have that structure. So they really kind of took to it to use an idiom that they didn’t use, like a fish to water. They took to it really easy in most cases. And they were and they felt they actually seem to build trust with us by using that process, which is one of the things you taught us in the cross-cultural training. So over a few months of coming over our growing pains with that, we started realizing that, hey, they’re using this change request process and it’s actually eliminating a lot of those difficult discussions that we used to have. So that one problem and one hand is actually being reduced or eliminated in some cases because the clients are going to that change request form and really thinking about do they need this request, how will it impact this project? They’re thinking about these things rather than just coming to us and kind of throwing requirements at us or they’re coming to us and having a discussion about whether we need to change requests for something or not. And our developers are more confident in having discussions with them now because of the training part. So there’s a lot less negotiations or pushbacks nowadays because people are actually having conversations about this rather than kind of more like a heated or an avoided debate kind of a situation. And, so this change request process has really helped us. And we’re going to continue along with this and other projects as well. We’re going to find ways to adapt it and keep it going. [End of case study.]
[00:11:32] So, you can see how actually sometimes training is not the answer and sometimes the consultation is and with other companies about this particular one. I’m talking about the case study, but I have consulted and. Help them actually come up with change request processes. No, I’m not a technical person, but at least from the process orientated side, I was able to kind of sit down with them and help them kind of devise a process and they would add the technical aspects into that process wherever necessary. So you can see that training may not always be the answer. Process might be the answer.
[00:12:05] So, where are some other where are some other places the process helps?
[00:12:10] You want employees that take more initiative. You want them to be more independent thinkers. You want them to be able to organize their day and their schedule on their own without you as a manager always telling them what to do. Now, in this virtual work from home environment, it’s really much more important than ever because you can’t just stop by their desk and see what they’re doing and then talk to them. They need to know this from the get go when they get started working in your company.
[00:12:36] Or maybe it has to be retro-fitted training process now that people have been working from home for a while and there might be very less chance that they’re coming back any time soon into the office.
[00:12:49] So, the process to put in place for this is when people are onboarded ..onboard them to your company’s culture. This is a little more tricky than change requests…suggestion of change request example, because you really have to think about, depending on the level of employee you’re talking about, what type of onboarding they might need. So with a fresher it seems a little more straightforward because they’re coming straight from college and especially for freshers graduating or passing out from colleges in India. They have we tend to have way less work experience and say someone who’s graduated from college in the US where internships and part time jobs are much more common. So they might already have some kind of understanding of how to manage time on their own in a work environment where that might not always be the case in India.
[00:13:44] So we take all of those kind of ideas and concepts and kind of inculcate them into a training program that’s tailored toward your teams and company’s needs. And that becomes part of the process. And that could be a train the trainer where I train one of your trainers to do it. So you do it all on your own. And again, you might think, well, Jennifer, why are you suggesting that? Aren’t you losing your business? I always prefer people to be independent. If I can make you independent, all the better for you as well, right? So you don’t have to rely on me all the time. Sounds good, right? So that’s one process to put in place. And then, of course, the second one I mentioned is when you onboard clients, the kickoff meeting is super important. And then there’s other places within in your company and inside your own processes that you only know. I don’t know where some of these things will come in handy. And it just helps build the foundation because, you know, the the people who come in for training say to me, “Hey, Jennifer, you’re teaching us all these really good techniques to communicate more effectively with the clients in the US. But, our managers aren’t here. Our managers don’t know anything about this.”
[00:15:02] So, the managers do need to get involved as well. If it needs to be a separate interaction, that’s great.
[00:15:09] But the thing here, and this is it happens with [almost] every organization, regardless of size to some extent, is that if the people in the top management really don’t follow what they want, their direct reports or client facing people to do, it’s going to be much harder for the higher ups, so to speak, to mentor or support those that they are, those who are working for them, so to speak, because they have not been kind of inculcated with those same values or same skills. So it’s important that everyone actually be on the same page, so to speak, because if the umbrella, the umbrella has to be there to keep everyone underneath it, right? So, if the umbrella is missing. Everyone’s going to get different raindrops and different things are going to happen. We don’t want that. We want everyone to kind of understand the same process, the same procedures, same communication strategies so that everyone in the company works on the same wavelength. Then you’re all moving in the same direction. Right? It’s that one person going this way, like management going this way and kind of facing people going this way and then only clashing when there’s an issue. We want everyone kind of moving in the same direction. So that’s what I’m here to help with, not just providing training, but consultation.
[00:16:33] And we get to that through really understanding the business problem. Why are you asking for this training? What is really the need for it? What was the problem or situation that has initiated this particular program and …or this idea for this program? It is a program that we need? Or is it something else that we need to look at behind the scenes? If you’re willing to have discussions about this, they are not always easy discussions to have. They take a little time to come out through. You can definitely get in touch with me. I’m happy to brainstorm these. I’m really here to help your team succeed. I’m Jennifer Kumar Authentic Journeys dot info. You can reach me on WhatsApp.
[00:17:17] I have an Indian Indian number 91-95-393-47529
[00:17:26] I have a US phone number and I’m actually in the US right now. Mountain Time Zone 3-8-5. That’s Country Code +1 … 1 – 385- 218-0947.
[00:17:41] So I hope to hear from you and be in touch and have a conversation.
[00:17:45] Thanks for listening.
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