Friday, February 5, 2010

The Squeaky Wheel

There's a cliche I'm sure you're familiar with... It is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. It refers to the dynamic by which the most noticeable problem is the one which gets attention. There's truth to that, of course... things don't become cliche because they're bullshit. In professional society I've seen this dynamic take effect time and time again. I've had clients call asking me to expedite a particular project because of their timeline, expecting it to happen despite what other clients' work might be in front of them in line. And you know what? If they call often enough, and make their situation sound urgent enough, often times it works. This says nothing of the respectful clients who understand the dynamics of a schedule, and don't call early asking (or demanding) to be bumped to the front of the line. My manager at my last job was especially susceptible to this kind of behavior, so much so that he would frequently give me a project priority list one day, then completely change the priorities the very next day based mostly on a phone call merely stating "when do you think this will be done?" He read that as the client getting antsy, and he constantly feared that if he didn't keep the clients happy they would jump ship and find another engineer.

As you can probably tell, I'm not fond of this behavior at all. At my first job we had a much more structured scheduling system, with things written right into the contract such as "we will begin work on this project within 3 weeks of receiving complete information, and the project will be completed within 2 weeks of that date." Then when someone called to ask when they were likely to get their project, the schedule could be referenced and an answer given. In the event a project was done early, of course it was given to the client early, and in the event of an actual urgency the schedule could be adjusted for a client, but not at the expense of other clients. This did not eliminate the Squeaky Wheel from, well, squeaking, but it gave some recourse and allowed the firm to operate without constantly jumping though hoops for the inevitably ungrateful clients.

Oh, didn't I mention that often times the Squeaky Wheel clients are also the clients who argue fees and are slow to pay?

Now don't get me wrong - not all clients are ungrateful, or difficult when it comes to payment... even some Squeaky Wheels. I know that some companies hire a specific individual to hold the Squeaky Wheel position - their whole job is to make sure things stay on track, and I've seen it done in a reasonable and respectful way. But I've also witnessed the annoying, unfortunate type of Squeaky Wheel, who wants everything done right away, and for free, and those people have spoiled the entire dynamic for everyone else.

So why do I bring this up? Well, recently Tasty Minstrel games sent out review copies of Terra prime and Homesteaders. It's been almost 2 months, and thus far I've seen only 1 written review of Homesteaders, none of Terra Prime, and no video reviews of either. Now I understand that reviewers have a stack of games waiting for reviews to be done, and I also understand that video reviews especially are not something you can just crap out on a moments notice. They are work, and they take time. I had simply hoped more of them would surface to coincide with the first shipment of TMG's games that hit the stores. Now I'm in the awkward position (awkward for me anyway) - do I simply wait for these reviews to surface in their own time? Or do I employ the Squeaky Wheel, emailing the reviewers to ask if they've had a chance to play the games, what they thought of them, and whether their review is forthcoming. I hate the thought of it, but in the end there's truth to the saying, it's the squeaky wheel that gets the oil.

So I decided to squeak, at least a little bit. I sent some emails to some reviewers, trying to sound as little as possible like a dick who wants preferential treatment simply because I have the gall to ask for it, just making sure that they got the games we sent, if they had all the right bits (we've had some manufacturing issues), and if they got a chance to play them. I didn't specifically ask if their reviews were coming, but I'm pretty sure they can figure out that was implied.

Maybe I've got it wrong, and this kind of behavior isn't as abhorrent as I think. I rather hope that's the case, because I feel really bad about "sinking to this level" as it were. It wouldn't surprise me terribly if some of the reviewers I emailed actually read this blog, in which case I say to them "sorry, I wasn't trying to be a dick!"

But I do kinda feel like a jerk.


Stephanie said...

I don't think it's jerky behavior, but then I'm totally one to speak up for what I want... :-)

If you sent out comped copies and their obligation is to post a review, it's completely reasonable to follow-up. I doubt they see you as being a jerk (I mean, c'mon, you sent them free, fun games!)!

Looking forward to seeing you at Strategicon!!

DShort said...

I don't believe this is inappropriate at all. When I send out a package to anyone, whether business or personal, I follow up on it a few weeks later. Did they get it? Is it what they requested? Did I miss anything? In fact, the reviewers might even find your actions exemplary.

Either way, you shouldn't feel like a jerk.

Seth Jaffee said...

Maybe I'm just conflating "following up" with the pestering behavior of some of the clients I've mentioned...