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Project management IS vendor management

IT project delivery is a team effort. In fact, these days, it’s often a global team effort, which requires outsourcing particular expertise and cultivating a diverse network of vendor relationships.

One thing is for sure – when it comes to managing project delivery, no matter how comprehensive, clear and air-tight your contracts are, you must manage your vendors and third-party contributors as closely as you do your internal team. And there are a handful of core strategies that will make that job easier.

1. Listen

Make no mistake – your vendor’s challenges are your challenges. Before signing any contracts, do a thorough assessment to identify a potential vendor’s all-around strengths and weaknesses. Don’t just focus on their technical abilities – be sure to evaluate their culture as well. Request references and take the time to speak to those past clients. Ask them specific questions about how the vendor supported the team on the ground when they encountered delivery issues.

Only collaborate with third parties who can demonstrate their ability to work through real challenges. Listen closely to how they describe past projects and project partners. Can they speak to mistakes and successes with equal candor? Do their existing processes support nimble problem-solving?

Every project has challenges. Success comes not from avoiding them, but from working through the issues with efficiency and expertise. Choosing skilled, collaborative vendors and ensuring open, honest communication between all parties will enable everyone to understand your project’s challenges and work collaboratively to overcome them.

2. Know what's expected

Understand each contract you enter into – not only the terms and conditions, but also the underlying assumptions, dependencies and shared risks. These may take some time to uncover, but only when you fully grasp both the written and assumed expectations can you understand your risk exposure. If your contract doesn’t have an assumptions section to refer to, look for gaps throughout. Then work with your vendor to establish a baseline set of shared assumptions.

Before officially starting project work, do an assessment of the delivery plan and be sure to have all parties sign off. For major milestones, ensure everyone agrees on what success will look like and the key dependencies for delivering those outcomes.

Remember that any contract is a two-way street. Shared success is only possible when you know not just what the vendor is doing for you, but also what your internal team needs to do to enable the vendor.

For example, just because you’ve contracted a professional services organization to implement a system for you doesn’t mean your part is done. A vendor can’t do their job alone. While you’re relying on them for subject matter expertise and technical know-how, they’re relying on you for system access, security privileges, troubleshooting assistance, etc. Clearing the path for delivery - beginning with effective onboarding - is a key part of vendor management.

3. Be one team

Delivery is a team sport. Whether you have a mixed team of internal and external contributors or you’re managing multiple vendors delivering on the same project, it’s essential to create an atmosphere that fosters collaboration.

Make sure you all share the same goal – successful delivery. And don’t just talk about it in abstract terms. Establish tangible, measurable gains by defining success criteria for each major milestone at the project outset and getting agreement from all parties.

Discourage us-versus-them thinking. That includes talking about risks as “our risks” and “your risks”. The risks your vendor is managing are just as critical to the project’s success as the ones your internal team raises.

Nurture a united culture by jointly managing risk and sharing ownership of risk mitigation and issue resolution. Establish joint meetings and reporting processes to generate a complete and clear picture of the whole project. Isolated reporting from individual vendors only furthers a silo mentality. To be one team, you need to report as a team, so everyone can see the full picture.

Above all, model and cultivate a mindset that when one wins, we all win. By coming together on a shared playing field, the team will achieve more and save critical time that would otherwise be wasted debating minutia or wading through red tape.

How cShell can help

With deep, firsthand experience engaging, contracting and managing global project teams, our one-on-one consultants can help you strengthen your vendor-management strategy.

Whether you need a more customized approach to vendor assessment or want to sharpen your team’s vendor-management skills, our tailored coaching process can help you improve your delivery experience and elevate results. Contact us today to learn how to take the strain out of managing third-party relationships.

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