I recently met up with a former co-worker for happy hour. After getting caught up on the latest in our lives, she solicited my project management advice. She has been managing a high profile project where much of the project development is being outsourced. Now, about 6 months into the project, which is scheduled to last a little over a year, she is definitely concerned. The vendor responsible for multimedia development on her project is not meeting the service levels of the contract.
She went on to explain that in recent months, there have been integration issues across different contracted vendors. Because the integration issues were at the forefront, it didn’t seem odd that the multimedia deliverables were not being furnished at that time. Without an appropriate launch platform, this multimedia vendor’s product would not function. Early on, she reconciled any doubt: What is the point in asking this vendor for the products/deliverables when the functionality couldn’t be tested? Then, about a month and a half ago the integration issues subsided. When it was time to test the multimedia deliverables on the platform, a test file was provided from the multimedia vendor. While that served the purpose of testing, it also uncovered a hard reality – the parallel development that was supposed to have been taking place while the issues were being fixed was not, and her project was behind.
She and I employ similar philosophies when it comes to vendor relations: In order for your project to run smoothly, it’s important to maintain a good relationship with your vendors. So she did what I would have done – initiated discussion with the vendor, reviewed what was behind, and set milestones to get things back on track. Although things consistently ran behind schedule, she began to see some production. When the deliverables were reviewed however, they fell way short of the quality that was promised. The level of expertise and that she was outsourcing for was just not there. She approached that too with the vendor but to date, there has been little or no improvement.
After giving it some thought, examining the statement of work and determining just cause, she was now asking me: should she consider making a change? Unfortunately, I explained, I don’t have an easy answer, but I did have some questions for her.
Has this vendor assumed responsibility for the shortcomings? Most good vendors will be transparent about any issues that are occurring and what they are doing to remedy the issues, sometimes before you have to ask. If yes, she wants to be certain that these are short-term and unlikely to occur again and there has been some sign of improvement.
Are the quality issues cosmetic or functional? Although there shouldn’t be either, issues of the functional nature will likely prevent a release of the product. Cosmetic issues, while not optimal will likely not prevent the product release, unless the project success is contingent on appearance.
Can the project withstand a change? There are surely cost and time implications if she were to bring another vendor on board. Those must be considered. Given what she told me about integration issues, ramp time may be significant.
I shared a story with her about a similar situation I was in where I decided to test the waters. I had gone the route of conversation after conversation and establishing milestone deadlines including withholding payment until deliverables were furnished. I decided to line up potential replacements and conduct some initial planning for a transition. Then I had yet another conversation with the current vendor on my project, this one a little stronger in nature. When I mentioned the potential for a change, he came at me with familiar promises of the past: we will improve, we will add more staff, we will iron out the kinks… I had heard it all before. But to my surprise, literally overnight I began to see changes. Secretly, I really didn’t want to make a change because of the effort involved, and turns out I didn’t have to. But if it were to have played out differently, I was prepared.
While, I did not have a solid answer for my former colleague, I let her know that in my experience, I have learned that that although switching vendors is not an easy task it is not an impossible task. If you have just cause and have put forth a solid effort to work with your current vendor you have to explore alternatives. With the appropriate planning and analysis, we as customers can certainly exit from an engagement with a vendor partner and begin with a new vendor with little or no impact. As I check back in with her on her story, I will update you with her successes and challenges sharing her strategies, and or how she may have dealt with or will deal with making the transition. Stay tuned…