Multi-level rapport

Many believe effective networking is done face-to-face, building a rapport with someone by looking at them in the eye, leading to a solid connection and foundational trust.
Raymond Arroyo.

As a typical engineer, when I first entered OSS projects my initial focus was on understanding the technologies and delivering the best technical solution that I was able to. Soon enough though, I noticed that a technically perfect solution does not always deliver a perfect outcome, particularly on OSS projects.

Transformational OSS projects can touch many parts of a customer’s organisation chart. Each of these parts (eg business units) have their own inherent strengths, weaknesses and communication / relationship mechanisms in place long before the OSS project commences.

As an implementation organisation (whether that be as a vendor, system integrator or even an internal project team), it is important that you collectively establish rapport at multiple levels within the customer. It needs to be a team effort because one individual is unlikely to touch all parts of the customer’s business.

You can probably think of a better way to describe the concept, but the Venn diagram below provides the perspective of a simplistic, hypothetical three business unit customer interaction model, whereby the integrator (yellow circle) must establish rapport with the customer’s business, operations and project stakeholders.

I’ve noticed that sales teams tend to do this extremely well, but engineering / implementation teams don’t tend to recognise the importance of multi-level rapport. Transformational OSS projects are as much about organisational change management as they are about the technical solution. Organisational change requires support to facilitate change at all levels within an organisation.

Implementers need to establish rapport with the following types of customer representatives:

  • The executives / sponsors / influencers and turn them into project champions to help drive through organisational change roadblocks
  • The rule benders who find ways to work around the bureaucracy and get difficult things done
  • The lobbyists who are able to find agreement and approvals from business units that have conflicting agenda and conflicting requirements rather than the stalemate situations that can bring OSS projects to a standstill
  • The diplomats  who are able to help recover from any differences of opinion before they become terminal for the project
  • The mentors that can guide and facilitate getting things done and getting them communicated to key influencers

If you think that you can deliver perfect customer outcomes by delivering a perfect technical solution, without the rapport of these types of individuals, think again!

PS. The Stakeholder Circle is one technique you can use to identify many key stakeholders, but it doesn’t represent a replacement for face-to-face rapport-building.

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