Tag Archives: Fixed Price

How Do You Satisfy a Difficult Foreign Customer? Three Factors

Situation: A company has a long-term relationship with a Japanese distributor that is also an investor in the company. Due to time zone differences and language difficulties, communications are very difficult. This leads to significant cost overruns for the company. How do you satisfy a difficult foreign customer?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In working with a difficult partner, it is critical to set expectations, establish ground rules and repeat these at the beginning of each conversation or teleconference until it is clear that both sides understand each other. Even at this point, these should be repeated and reinforced any time a new individual is participating in the conversation.
    • Do you want us to give you (a) our honest answer, or (b) do you want us to tell you what we think you want to hear? – They would be foolish to choose (b).
    • Preface each critical response with this choice to reinforce the agreement at the beginning of the meeting.
  • In a situation where you are losing money under a fixed price contract, you may have to have a “Come to Jesus” meeting. During this conversation, you want to understand and establish:
    • Whether this relationship is profitable for both of us, and
    • Whether this project is doable by each of us.
    • Usually this will result in a radical shift in the model.
    • If it does not they it is better for both if you part ways. You are unlikely to reconcile the situation.
  • The bottom line is to establish, mutually, whether you can satisfy your partner through your efforts. This is critical to your future with this customer.
    • If you cannot find an acceptable solution you must abandon the effort.
    • It makes no sense to take on business that is not profitable to you, even if the revenue is important to plan achievement.
    • At the current rate, you will not make up the loss in profitability through additional volume.

How Do You Help Managers Think Bigger? Four Guidelines

Situation: A company is transitioning from a time and materials to a fixed price bid model. Estimators and project leads find this transition difficult. We need them to think like business managers. How do you help managers to see and think in terms of the big picture?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • First, set up a framework that repositions projects in a business framework.
    • All projects are business go/no decisions with expenses, minimum profitability targets, and incentives provided for beating initial projections.
    • This will help generate more consistency in bids and final gross margins per project.
  • Next, teach managers and employees industry and company standards within your new model.
    • Do post-mortems on all projects. Did we make or lose money versus initial estimate? How much? How did we perform against estimated time and expense? Were client expectations met? Were they exceeded? What was good or bad about the project? Were there errors in the original estimates? Where could we have saved cost?
    • Use this information to improve your estimating process over time.
  • You have a long history of T&M projects. Categorize these by project type. Look at the hours required to complete the projects – both engineering and management time – as well as other costs. Establish range and averages within each category.
    • Look for key variables among the project categories: scope of project, learning curves, efficiency of team members.
    • Work through known costs and outcomes on past projects as examples to teach the process.
    • For new projects, calculate best, medium and worst case hours and costs. Bid based on your worst case as you develop your learning curve.
    • Make sure to include a project management fee on top of your T&M estimates. Eventually you want to develop an overhead percentage to cover project management.
  • Team your estimator with the project lead both for project input, and performance against the bid.
    • Evaluate and compensate both based on project outcome.
    • The critical measure will be gross margin generated versus gross margin estimated on the project.

Key Words: Leadership, Project, Time and Materials, Fixed Price, Bid, Framework, Consistency, Standards, Variables, Estimator, Lead, Incentive