Within every company, there is an ecosystem of vendors which add value to the supply chain and provide services outside of the organization’s area of expertise or as an adjunct to their internal staff. This vendor supply chain is often invaluable and helps move the objectives of the organization forward. If you live in a vendor heavy organization, where outsourced projects cross paths, you’ve probably run into the headache of finger-pointing. When you are up against deadlines and you are managing multiple vendors with distinct project responsibilities that have dependencies on one another, it seems like an impossibility to avoid sometimes. Vendor finger pointing can be “tear your hair out” frustrating because at the end of the day, the project still needs to be completed and if timelines or budgets are being blown, the natural position for many is to try and deflect the blame.
What can be done?
The best way to manage vendor finger pointing is to handle it from the beginning before the project starts. Making sure you have well defined contractual engagements, a clear scope of work, and specific deliverables for each portion of the project, this will go a long way to solving these issues up front. Being able to go back to a document where someone signed on the dotted line is invaluable when disputes arise and trust me, disputes will arise in any project where there is a reliance across vendors. In circumstances where you were not able to accomplish the above, it becomes imperative to move onto Plan B. Which is to assess the gaps in your vendor management process to alleviate friction. The “just get it done” while easy to say, probably isn’t going to solve the root issue and often only ratchets up the pressure, which often just increases the deflective capacity of the vendors that are failing on their commitments.
Our experience tells us that there are a few places you can immediately look and solve issues:
Proper Vendor and Project Management
For large projects with multiple moving pieces that contain dependencies on one another, having a tactical, boots on the ground, Project Manager with the capability to make decisions is absolutely key. Your PM should have cross-project assignments and the authority, responsibility, and accountability for each project segment. If your PM doesn’t have the authority to make decisions, be held accountable for their decisions, and the responsibility for overall project success, then you are hamstringing them and hurting their ability to effectively manage the project.
For the very large projects, either having a PMO or following some kind of defined project management framework like SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework for the Enterprise) will be key to ensure your vendors are staying on track and managing those relationships.
In line with a good Project Manager, having a proper Business Analyst, whether provided by one of the vendors or internal to your staff will go a long way in ensuring project requirements and user stories are properly documented and communicated to the appropriate teams. But this is a function that can be handled by multiple roles and is a nice to have in comparison to the right project management.
Choosing a Lead Vendor
Usually, when the project isn’t going quite as planned, there will be a vendor that distinguishes themselves and continues to earn your trust. Don’t be afraid to rely heavily on that vendor, consolidate work, or give them a lead role in the production. These types of vendors have one goal, which is project completion. You will recognize them because they will take on leadership roles without being asked, they will attempt to help you manage the project more efficiently and try to help you deliver project areas that may be outside of their scope. When something goes wrong, these vendors come to you with facts and solutions, they don’t point fingers or allow emotions to cloud their judgment.
The best possible situation for a vendor you wish to take the lead would be to consolidate work to them. If they are succeeding, it’s because their internal processes and are sound, they have the right people in place on the team, and they are success oriented. If consolidating work isn’t a possibility, then consider placing them as the prime and arrange other vendors as subs on the contract. Finally, the last resort would be to hand them the project management responsibility and make them the gatekeeper for vendor activity. Put this vendor in a leadership role in the eyes of your other vendors and it will go a long way towards helping them, help you manage the overall project.
Unless the vendor knows the larger project is doomed to fail, they will be excited to take on this additional role. Often times, as an outsourced provider ourselves, we know that if the client handed more responsibility off to us, we could fix a lot of the issues they are facing in a project. The best vendors want to make their client happy, do good work, and deliver. Trust their track record and you will get the results you are looking for.
Pumex Computing is a technology consulting company. If you’re struggling with managing multiple vendors, we can help your organization take control of the project and get back on track. Check out everything we have to offer at https://www.pumex.com