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Get your vendor's A team

Bart Perkins | July 23, 2015
Salespeople peddle the best-case scenario. When you're shopping for systems integration, outsourcing or other complex services, the salespeople will typically assure you that service delivery will be outstanding. They promise that the transition will be completed smoothly by a top-notch implementation team and that ongoing support will be provided by an equally talented operations team. They may well mean what they say, but the sad truth is that not every client can get the A team.

Be suspicious of any team in which the majority of the key people are hired specifically for your project. They will spend the first several months learning the informal norms of their new employer and building an internal network. While people who are thrown together can become a great team, it takes time for everyone to learn how everyone else operates. Adjust project schedules accordingly, or object to brand new employees.

Assess the team's flexibility when presented with new information. A teams adjust as the situation evolves. B teams insist on adhering to the methodology even when it's not working.

  • Evaluate the vendor's project management approach. Be wary if the vendor is reluctant to describe its project management approach. It should include a clear initiation phase, a mutually approved plan, an execution phase, robust monitoring and a well-defined close. Become very concerned if the team does not develop a detailed work plan quickly.

Poor teams believe executing the work is more important than planning the work. Recently, an outsourcer embarked on a six-month data center migration. Despite repeated requests from the client, the outsourcer did not create a comprehensive work plan for the first four months. Not surprisingly, key tasks slipped through the cracks, and six months became nine months.

  • Assess how the team addresses problems. Every major project experiences problems. A teams acknowledge problems quickly then focus on developing solutions. They understand that bad news does not get better with age. When necessary, they have the courage to tell the client that a problem has occurred or that the sales team overpromised certain elements of the contract.

B teams either try to hide bad news or shift the blame. These teams lose precious time pretending the problem will disappear when they should be working on solutions. Become very concerned if you learn that the team on the ground wants to share bad news but fears reprisals from their own senior staff.

  • Evaluate how the vendor engages client staff. Client involvement is critical since client staff understand both the current technology base and the client culture. Even when entire departments are completely outsourced, open communication between vendor and client builds acceptance for the new environment. In addition, client staff can usually help the vendor anticipate potential challenges.

A teams treat client staff respectfully and spend some of their on-site time getting to know the people over coffee or a meal. B teams frequently ignore client staff, believing their knowledge is irrelevant. This leads to misunderstandings or animosity that can be detrimental to the project.

The team your vendor assigns determines the quality and success of your project. Negotiate with your vendor for the best possible team before the project begins. Changing horses in midstream can disrupt team dynamics, cause delays and impact vendor relations adversely during critical points in the project. However, if you later discover the vendor's team is not performing adequately, don't wait for critical delivery failures to occur. Negotiate for necessary changes in project personnel until you get the team your project deserves.


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