When Erik Eckel's IT consulting firm installed the wrong OS on a client's system, he took immediate action to correct the situation. He says honesty is still the best policy when it comes to mistakes.
IT consulting is a tough gig that certainly isn't for the faint of heart, especially when things go wrong. Unfortunately, IT consultants sometimes make it even tougher on themselves by making mistakes. Here are just a few of the mistakes I've seen consultants make:
- External backup hard disk formatted FAT32 (which cannot create a file larger than 4 GB).
- Battery backups rolled out with no heartbeat communications cable installed, or critical equipment plugged in to surge-only outlets.
- Client and server systems installed with no antivirus software.
- Firewalls carefully configured but the WAN circuit plugged into an unprotected Ethernet port rather than the router's firewalled port.
- Ethernet cables improperly terminated.
- Incorrect operating systems installed.
What to do when someone makes a mistakeAnother practitioner makes an error
When things go wrong, many telecom companies, software developers, and IT consultants are quick to point fingers at one another; I believe this is because it may not be clear where the fault lies. If another party makes a mistake, the key is to take the high road - don't make it your goal to bury the practitioner. You should simply state why a problem exists, show the evidence (e.g., documentation, screenshots, photographs) if appropriate, and make your recommendation for fixing it.Your office makes an error
When your IT consulting agency makes a mistake, clients may or may not notice, but you should own up to it. This is always the best course of action.
Here's an example. My office was set for another busy day; each technician was scheduled for three or four calls each. One tech was dispatched to a client with a new desktop to deploy. Upon arriving at the client's site, he called back to the office to state the wrong OS had been installed on the system; the system was needed in service immediately.
Keep in mind this is a demanding client. My shop even developed a checklist for reviewing this client's new systems before they left our office; however, somehow we messed up and deployed Windows 7 Professional instead of Windows XP Professional on a new OptiPlex. Worse, the system was needed that afternoon.
We could have blamed Dell; we could have suggested the client take our advice and deploy the more current OS (no business need dictated that Windows XP be installed); or we could have looked for another excuse. In the heat of the battle, with all engineers and appointment slots taken, it was tempting to look for a scapegoat.
Instead, I called the client. I explained we made a mistake and installed the wrong operating system. I reiterated that we had a checklist in place to prevent this issue, but, frankly, we blew it. I added that we were going to make it right, since an executive was waiting on the properly configured system. We had our engineer return the desktop to our office, we placed its reinstall on a fast track, we moved a non-contract client project from that afternoon to the next day, and finished redeploying the OptiPlex (this time with the proper OS) before the day ended.
Honesty pays off
Clients don't want excuses -- they just want their stuff to work. When it's your IT consultancy that makes a mistake, do the right thing and take ownership, communicate with the client, and make it right. Clients will respect you for it.
Related IT consultant resources
- Should IT consultants pay for their stupid mistakes?
- Resist the temptation to do wrong by your clients