I just had to cancel a multi-thousand dollar order of new computers because the head of Sales didn't like the machines that I ordered for his team. This is despite having discussed his needs with beforehand.

Now, I'm going to go through machines with him, and he's going to pick out various features that he likes, and we're going to compromise on specifications, features, cost, etc.

In the future, no machines will be ordered for a group without the approval of the dept. head. Approval meaning they inspect and sign off on the specs of the machines before they're ordered.

I'm curious how other organizations purchase machines in large volumes. What is your approval / ordering process like?


The user initially told me that, since he's a salesman, the most important features were "being smaller and lighter" than his current machine, because he lugs it around. I ordered small, light machines for them, because they're all salespeople and are therefore traveling a lot.

Today he tells me that the most important feature is good screen resolution, since he wants demos to look nice for the company, and that he's willing to trade size and lightweight for better resolution. I reminded him about the conversation that we had, and he claimed that he didn't understand what I was talking about when we discussed lightness.

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    This is what documentation is for. It reminds people what they said even though they claim that they never said. A simple saved email exchange would've made this a non-issue. – pulcher Jul 17 '09 at 17:29
  • You're right. Rest assured, once he and I decide on a model, he's literally signing off. I'm printing a description of the model and specs and he's signing it. – Matt Simmons Jul 17 '09 at 18:00

They get what they're given!

  • +1 HA HA HA! Sorry, but that was EXACTLY what I thought when I read the question. In a lot of cases, users really don't know what they want/need. I'm not trying to sound BOFH here, its just the truth in a lot of cases. ;-) – KPWINC Jul 17 '09 at 21:16
  • This is what happened at a company I had experience with as well. Computers are ordered without any thought to the needs of the users, some users end up getting underpowered machines for their needs, while there others get souped up machines for typing Word documents or displaying Powerpoint presentations. The answer above could be edited to sound a little less crass (no insult intended), but it can be very true. – Laz Jul 18 '09 at 22:59

For large companies we work with, we recommend that IT spec out three laptops: small+light, big+powerful, and something in between. So to use Dell for example, we usually spec the latest Latitude D4x0, D6x0 and D8x0 systems. We usually get the biggest hard disk and the most RAM available when we order them, since we expect to get up to three years of life out of them.

Usually the execs get the small+light ones, while the Sales-Engineers people get the big+powerful ones. Everyone else gets one in between. Exceptions have to be justified.


Under no circumstances do I let any users pick out machines. As you've discovered it just leads to a fight. I get a list of requirements go over that list with them, show the requirements to others in IT, and the CTO and show the machine I picked out and why that machine fills those requirements to the CTO. If the head of sales (or whomever) either forgot to list a requirement, or discovers it's wrong they argue with the CTO.

I used to just order 1 then order a bunch more but a cost analysis show that its cheaper to buy a bunch, deploy 1 and return them all if it's not quite right for some reason.


Since it sounds like the dept heads has been give the "power" wrongly so in this case but has none the less I can only say CYA (cover your a**)

So come up with a standard form that list off the key features Memory CPU Screen Size Weight Etc.

They fill this out, you spec it send back the quotes from dell/Hp, etc.

The department a** (I mean head), selects the one he wants and replies back with "Approved HP quote number 12345" so that you know which of the quotes.

Thats what you order.

If he replies back with anything else like "looks good", "ok", etc you reply back with sorry I need you to say "approved" and give the quote number you want order.

Now it's black and white, thats what he ordered. He doesn't like tough luck. You've got a good process in place and can back up what he wanted with paper work.


What did they not like? The specs or the computer design?

I would trust like you said that you went over specs with them and made it was what they needed.

If you are dealing with large enough orders, some of the major companies will send you demo machines that you can try out before you make your choice. I used to work for a company that wanted prebuilt machines, but the cases had to be sturdy for the environment. We got many different machines to try, then made our choice.

  • I know an organisation that did that. 2 years it took them to make the decision, they were always trying out the next model, by the time they'd tested it, another one was available. – gbjbaanb Jul 18 '09 at 18:13

Instead of asking users what they want from a system, ask them what they will use a system for. Take that information and translate it out to what specs are actually needed. When delivering the system, outline how the specs you decided upon meet/exceed the use cases originally provided by the user.

  • 1
    Sadly, I tried that, and it's sort of what led to this situation of cancelling the order. The head of sales complained to the president, and I got told to get specs signed off by heads of departments. – Matt Simmons Jul 18 '09 at 0:09

We replace about 50-60 machines per year.

For desktops, some years we pick one model, other years we have to pick two: we always get pretty high-end machines, but about every other year we buy some really powerful ones for the people doing simulation, image processing, and other tasks that can use more power.

For laptops, most people here are best served by either a medium size (14" screen), very powerful model or an ultralight so we spec out one of each of those every year. Anyone who wants something different has to make a strong case for it.


Unless the user strongly objects they get a macbook or a macbook pro. Why? We aren't so big and this way when someone forgets/breaks/loses their power adapter we can share around until someone can get another one.

That way also batteries, power adapters, display adapters, etc, also can be common and we can buy spares.

If they never move then they get a Mac Mini.

You get a budget and if you really want something different (read Windows) you can buy it, but, guess what, support is then 'when we get to it and care' rather than 'we will support you'. You'd be amazed how fast users decide that Windows isn't so important when they find that their support calls will just ring back to their phone.

  • Sharing the power adapter works with any company where you order the same computer. Any Dell Latitude power adapter will fit any other. – SpaceManSpiff Jul 19 '09 at 14:53

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