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I have been at my company for over 3 years now and I see a very concerning pattern of people constantly over promising things and under delivering.

To give a little context, I work for a Saas company that provides critical business applications to clients. We are very sales focused and tend to make promises to larger prospects to win the business even if it means we have to build something custom for them. This in and of itself presents problems for a cloud based solution that hosts thousands of clients. It is not common that we will add little features here and there to satisfy a single clients needs adding complexity and extra configuration for customers.

I work as a product manager so I see this functional debt being added over time and what it does to the application. Often times when management promises things to clients it turns into us custom developing a solution to meet their exact needs. In some cases the customer quits because we promise to get them up and running on the solution by x date, without understanding the timeline of the feature development. In most cases we develop a specific feature and then they refuse to start using the software until other needs are met.

I have seen us waste hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to get large customers to use our software. It's extremely frustrating to me seeing it happen over and over again. It's at the point where people ask me if we can do something for a customer and I say no, but they end up selling the deal anyway.

I sometimes wonder if no one else learns from these mistakes. It seems like the upper management team does not. It's literally the definition of insanity in my mind. Doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.

Does anyone else deal with this at their company or have any advice for how to deal with it?

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    I think most people deal with this problem in IT. That's a sales problem, not a product development problem. If sales overpromises in order to get a project there is not much you can do other than educate the sales people. But generally people are way more comfortable with big-promises-now-and-failure-later than failure-now. – KMSTR Sep 26 at 4:05
  • You likely need to find someone with clout to argue with sales folks in a way they have to listen, but many companies are unbalanced there. Set expectations where you can, but it matters "who" sets expectations to sales as well for them to listen. – mutt Sep 26 at 4:16
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    Just because it looks insane and stupid to you, doesn't mean the strategy doesn't work. You may be getting clients on board that if you were honest, wouldn't bother with your company. The ethical side is another story entirely. – Gregory Currie Sep 26 at 4:48
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    Do you have a financial stake in the company other than your paycheck? If not, then let it go. Lots of companies are "bad" at doing business. From the sounds of it, you're not going to save the company from itself. – joeqwerty Sep 26 at 11:55
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There are 2 sides in a software company. Dev and sales. The dev team are the ones responsible for delivering the product. Sales needs to sell it to people. You can get good sales people who take the time to learn what is possible with the product and how long certain aspects of dev can take (rare as hen's teeth), and then there is the rest of sales. Known for promising whatever is required to get a sale, they don't really care what is required to get it done (or if it is even possible).

The issue you are facing seems to be that most of management is the second type. I have worked in this type of company. I don't recommend it. Managers who have come from the dev side tend to be a lot more realistic with what they promise to customers.

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You already received some answers that the problem is "sales". That is only one side of the problem.

I work(ed) almost 20 years in on-demand-software, and I saw the issue over and over again. Sometimes the same thing happens even when there is no sales-department involved. It is an organizational culture at management level, that they must do the impossible to show how wonderful managers they are. It is the culture which negatively affects (and sometimes ruins) the lives of the employees.

Don't get me wrong, some challenges are even healthy and welcome, they push for progress. But when even "drinking some water" is a challenge, things are less-than-good.

Unfortunately, there is little you can do to change things. And the bigger the company is, the more difficult is to actually change something.

There is a long history of companies going off the market for smaller things, but some people never learn, from anything.


From your point of view, there are not many alternatives.

  1. Ty to discuss with the managers there, showing why over-promising is hurting the company. It will be quite useless, because they already know the numbers even better than you.
  2. Find another business, hoping that they will prove to be better decision-makers.
  • There are no managers needed for this. It is very rare in my experience for developers to make accurate/pessimistic estimations of how long something takes (or use proper estimation techniques). It's very rare that estimations are undercut, but very often the case that they are too low.Yes the systems around them encourage it, but it's often the devs who go by "oh it's done by the end of the week" and then suddenly it isn't for "reasons" - often good reasons, but that doesn't excuse the overly optimistic estimation. – Frank Hopkins Sep 27 at 0:48
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Try to push for your workplace to adopt a more Agile workflow, with ongoing engagement of the customers by the developers.

One of the guiding principles of Agile software development is the continuous delivery of value to customers, and one of the ways that you do that is to integrate the customer's representative into the development team, even if only on a part-time basis. By doing this, you can short-circuit the Sales department and communicate directly with the customer, so that you can more flexibly adjust your work to meet their needs, and thereby avoid over-promising and under-delivering, since over-promised requirements can be dropped from the project. This role is referred to as the Business Ambassador role in the DSDM Agile methodology.

  • Agile can't solve a corrupted culture, and the sales department will complain about the development department messing with the process of convincing (deceiving?) customers and will say that they bring the money in and the devs should shut up and obey. And the managers/owner will agree. Because the culture is rotten like a fish, from the head. – Geronimo Sep 26 at 13:35

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