Tuesday, April 7, 2009


The project is complete. The hardware, bright, shiny and new is in place, with glowing lights and drives humming with new software. The vendor rep performs the initial log in, demonstrates a few features, pockets the last check and leaves. Over the next few days, problems begin to manifest:
  • The new system is painfully slow to boot;
  • The automatic backup feature will not run reliably;
  • The system will not interface with two of your legacy systems;
  • The system incorrectly calculates withholding taxes when printing paychecks.
The system commits yet another error and remits an incorrect amount of withholding taxes to the IRS;It completely corrupts the accounts receivable file.

Vendor sends in a technician, who announces that all is well with the system and attributes the difficulties to user error. He leaves behind a large bill for his time.

Could this situation - which is deliberately exaggerated - have been avoided?
  • Certain questions come immediately to mind:
  • What did vendor commit to deliver"
  • What did customer expect to receive?
  • What does the contract say customer was to receive?
  • What performance standard does the contract specify?
In this instance, the contract refers only to “published specifications” and contains no testing procedures. Of all the safeguards that may be built into a contract, acceptance testing is perhaps the most important. They are the best way to ensure the deliverables:
  • Performance promised; and
  • Meet customer's needs.
To be effective, the performance standards and testing procedures must be:
  • Mutually agreed; and,
  • Objectively measurable.
Such acceptance procedures protect customer and vendor. Vendor is protected against a customer who, for whatever reason, wants to escape the contract. Customer is protected against a product that does not perform as customer needs and wants it to.

Vendors occasionally balk at acceptance testing. Not because they object to demonstrating the quality of their work, but because, typically, customers will withhold final payment until acceptance is successfully completed. Vendors, like everyone else, prefer to be paid in full, and as quickly as possible. Clear, objective standards can do much to overcome this concern. If the customer cannot withhold payment arbitrarily, then timely payment depends only on the quality of vendor’s work.

Acceptance testing will not ensure that a project will be on time or within budget, but it will do much to ensure that the final product will perform as promised, and as needed.

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