This post is the third in a series about how the AIM Model came to be. In our previous post, we explained how we deconstructed the customer journey to reverse engineer successful collaborations.
Over a year or so of analyzing the data and extracting lessons, we rolled out a new model for approaching customer engagements with long-term partnership in mind. Drawing on decades of project experience within our management team, and analyzing our company’s own historical experiences, the new model incorporated a more in-depth pre-sales process and added transition processes to guide a project through each phase. The model identifies three steps that correlate with the major phases of a collaboration: Align, Integrate, and Manage. We call it the AIM Model.
The design and continual improvement of the AIM Model is guided by several objectives that we believe every partnership should have:
- Ensure that development investments drive the partner’s desired business outcomes
- Maximize the time and economic efficiency of software development
- Minimize unanticipated changes and the cost of change when it happens
- Optimize the collaborative experience between internal and external resources
- Proactively address any legal, regulatory, and IP risks to the partner
- Correlate equivalent standard processes between teams and fill process gaps
The biggest internal changes that the AIM Model has introduced are in pre-sales and discovery. Implications of the Alignment step even became visible in our marketing messages, as we worked to set the right expectations early on. The customer’s first formal introduction to AIM comes when the Align step is outlined explicitly during the sales process, as a collaborative exercise between two prospective partners.
A number of exercises are included that ensure internal and external capabilities are balanced for complete coverage and maximum efficiency, that project constraints are prioritized, and that the project’s strategic implications for the customer are well understood. Alignment guides everyone through the engagement options and help make the decisions that will optimize the projects for success. The end result is all of the information necessary to create a contractual agreement and transition the project to Delivery, including project objectives, priority of constraints (scope, schedule, budget), and what capabilities the stakeholders are prepared to provide internally.
Next is Integration, a step that consists mostly of planning exercises familiar to any project manager. All of those exercises have become much easier though, now that they benefit from earlier Alignment efforts. Thorough documentation in pre-sales makes for a seamless handoff of project information from the sales team to delivery managers, and the Alignment step’s structured decision-making process ensures that critical details are included and unnecessary surprises are avoided.
Every project begins the Integration step with a short planning sprint (usually just one week) that includes a number of milestones. First is a hand-off meeting to internally review the customer background, the contract, and the project objectives. Soon after, a formal Kick-off Meeting is facilitated, where the team lead is introduced. The team lead then ensures that the customer knows how to work well with our team and make the best use of all the information we provide them during delivery. By the time Integration concludes, all logins are set up, daily updates have begun, and the team is ready to begin development in earnest.
Of all the steps in the AIM Model, the Management step was most familiar to our teams and required the least adaptation. The processes that Management encompasses are the same processes that have always allowed us to develop and deliver software with reliable quality and precision. Having realized CMMI Level3 accreditation shortly after our company’s founding, and achieving an ISO 9001 designation soon after, all of our employees are accustomed to participating in a rigorously process-oriented Agile practice. As it turned out, communicating in more detail about our Management processes during pre-sales has made Alignment more often result in an agreement. Similarly, during the Integration step we now coach customers on how to most effectively participate in Management, making the most out of the information provided to assess progress and make course corrections.
The end result of this new model has been higher satisfaction with projects, both internally and externally, both measurable and anecdotal. AIM is designed wrap a proven delivery process, not interfere with it. Addition of the Alignment and Integration steps provided our sales and marketing teams with the same process rigor that our software delivery teams have long maintained, improving predictability and accountability. Like all of our processes, this model is subject to our disciplined efforts at continuous improvement, allowing us to incorporate hard-earned lessons into every new project. Best of all, it ensures that every new customer collaboration is placed on a trajectory for true partnership.