Best of luck to Team Intertech @ the North American Pond Hockey Championship. The team’s first game is at noon this Friday.
If you have read my blog or my book Building a Winning Business, you probably already know that I’m a big believer in communication. Nowhere is this more critical than in the beginning of a new vendor engagement. New relationships, whether personal or professional, get off to the best start when the people involved communicate their expectations and listen to the expectations of others.
In the case of the new federal health insurance website, I wonder if the government agency clients were crystal clear about the launch deadline for the site. Conversely, did the vendor drill down to find out what “launch” meant to the client? Perhaps the vendor thought “soft launch” or “beta launch,” while the client meant “public launch to the entire country!” While we can’t discount the role of politics in the deadline pressure, both parties should have communicated expectations and realistic timelines from day one.
Among my other tips in this regard:
- Define clear lines of responsibility to stop turf wars before they start. After clearly defining the role of the vendor, be sure to share this information with your staff.
- Clearly state expectations to put everyone on the same page (see above!).
- Choose a central point of contact for both the vendor and your company or agency.
- Clearly state priorities when fleshing out functional requirements.
- Communicate constantly.
Next time: how to keep your project moving forward.
In my last two posts I’ve been using the problems with the newly launched federal health insurance website as the jumping off point for a broader discussion of how to engage and work with vendors who can meet your expectations. Just like the process of hiring employees, engaging an IT vendor should involve a rigorous interview process. Always take the time to review the firm’s past work and to meet the actual people who will be involved with your project. As I describe in my book, Building a Winning Business, it’s also wise to think about the following points during the interview:
- Do they ask questions? To create a solution, they’ll need to understand the problem. Asking questions shows they care and that they’re prepared.
- Do they seem too good to be true? For example, if you’re considering five firms for a project and four of the five have stated that your delivery date is unrealistic but one firm can, somehow, hit your deadline, it’s highly possible they just may be telling you what you want to hear to get your business. In this scenario, it’s also highly possible that they will disappoint you by missing the deadline once you’ve signed on the dotted line.
- Do they pay attention to the details? In the sales process, you’re most likely going to see the best side of the firm. If they’re late or don’t follow through on small details in the bidding process, it won’t get better once you’ve engaged them.
- Look for a fit on a cultural level. Similar to having employees who fit the culture of your company, look for a cultural fit with your outside provider.
The bottom line: hiring a vendor should be undertaken with the same level of preparation and scrutiny given to hiring a new employee. Ask tough questions and pay close attention to what is said – and left unsaid – by all vendors that you consider.
Next time: how to get your new vendor relationship off to the best start!