The Phantom’s Contract

Adam Bahret
Adam Bahret
Screen Shot 2021 12 19 at 5.31.01 PM

I have been recently been talking about the concept of the “Quality Customer Contract” in other discussions. Many readers/listeners/viewers have asked for more details on how the “Customer Quality Contract” works. Well, right out of the gate, it needs a cooler name. I’ve always let people pick whatever name they like or just stuck with the generic “Quality Customer Contract” title when we implement it. But geez, if there was ever a name that should be in a soft beige-colored font knitted on a pillow to catch your head as you fall asleep from boredom, that’s it. We need something more exciting.
So, after getting the Xth email about it, I decided to hijack the meeting I was in at the time and see what whoever was in front of me at the moment could come up with. Everyone was thrilled; because the meeting we were in was intense and we needed a break.
I think we settled on “The Phantom’s Contract.” That works, right? Totally cool and definitely going to get a logo (see thumbnail). That name captures the main idea; we are creating the presence of a customer who is not actually there but that we can feel the influence of. We are carefully documenting what we believe they want and committing to doing just that.
Ok, that’s all set, from today forward this principle will be known as, “The Phantom’s Contract.”
So how does it work? This is my process:
List the key elements of the customer’s experience. This includes features, performance, reliability, interaction when issues arise, interactions with the product during all use conditions, interactions with sales, tech support, and engineering. It even incorporates how they transition from that product to the next generation. Let’s just say it covers pretty much everything just short of their favorite color. But hey, you can even include that if you want. Now, you aren’t necessarily committing to satisfying all of these, just creating a comprehensive summary of the customer experience. I see another naming opportunity, “The Phantom Elements.”
Next, we need metrics. Metrics are always great for two reasons. First, they tell us if we are going in the right direction. Second, because we are naturally competitive, when we measure something it just automatically begins to improve. Thus, measuring more = improving more. We will call these “Phantom Metrics.” Ok, no, the names are getting out of hand, let’s just call them “metrics.”
We then need to make sure the contract doesn’t just get completed and put away. Remember, this is about the Phantom Customer not the absent customer. Let’s take the Phantom elements and break out what influences them. I’ll use the obvious reliability oriented example. Phantom Element #1: the product doesn’t wear out before ten years. This is influenced by the primary wear-out failure mode. Do we know what that is? Have we done any testing on this? Have we even investigated what is known in the industry about this failure mode for our technology? A second example, Phantom Element #2: the texture of the product feels smooth and comfortable when handled. Do we have a metric for this? Will we field trial it?
Now let’s take our Phantom Elements and begin to break down when in a program we should put them on our radar. For example, if we have a Phantom Element for product failures that could occur in standby time, we should also have a Phantom Metric for the ratio of standby failures to use failures. So where should we put some anchors in our program to make sure that it progresses in the best parts of the program.
Next, we need to lay out the major program phases. This will include Concept, Design, R&D prototype, Manufacturing Prototype, Release, etc. Highlight points in each phase where you would want the customer in the room to guide you. Where would they speak up in a design review? What would they say about a test result? Or, more importantly, what would they request to have tested or be a meaningful metric in a test? Remember, meaningful to them, not you.
We need the contract to have a “punch list” function. It doesn’t matter how small the item is, if it needs to get done it gets put on the punch list.
Put aside a few minutes in ALL major program meetings for the Phantom’s contract to be discussed. Just 5 minutes to cover what is open and what is lagging will be sufficient.

So, that is the Phantom’s contract at a high level. Give it a try and you might end up with a new team member.

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