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!
Sometimes a computer error can transcend aggravation and make us laugh. Check out this post on Intertech’s website for the 15 Funniest Real Computer Error Messages.
As we enter 2014, Intertech and I have free learning opportunities and some new support programs for students:
- With Intertech’s training sweepstakes, we’re giving away $10,000 worth of training for a team of up to four IT professionals. Throw your hat in the ring and register today!
- Thanks to Jim White, my business partner, you can learn Raspberry Pi development in a series of 10 Raspberry Pi programming workshops on Intertech’s blog.
- If have a kid involved in a Lego or Robotics League in Minnesota, watch Intertech’s website for our upcoming announcement of our support program for up to 50 teams. In addition, we are going to help sponsor the Minnesota First Regional competition in March ’14 at the University of Minnesota.
- Watch our website for the announcement of our upcoming scholarship. Offered to an undergraduate computer science or STEM student, the Intertech Foundation will be awarding $2,500 to an undergrad student in ’14.
- Finally, for everyone (no application or sweepstakes required), I’m giving away a copy of my book Building a Winning Business. Feel free to share this post or the link to the PDF.
Let’s make it a great ’14!
“It would have been better to have more time,” Cheryl Campbell, a senior vice president at CGI Federal, the site designer, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee during a recent hearing on why the new federal health website has performed so poorly since its debut on October 1.
Ms. Campbell’s comment makes me wonder about the planning process (or lack thereof) behind this colossal project. In my book, “Building a Winning Business,” I discuss the key role that planning plays in solid project execution. According to Gartner Group, 75 percent of software projects fail due to lack of technical consideration or poor planning.
How could a project of such magnitude been approved without a well-planned approach and realistic implementation timeline? Did CGI group agree to an unreasonable timeline in the beginning in order to win the contract? Is it possible no one from the government asked CGI the tough questions during the vendor interview process?
No matter how impressive a vendor may appear to be on paper, it all comes down to the specific people assigned to your project and their ability to get the job done. In Building a Winning Business, I dedicate an entire section to hiring and working with vendors. Rule number one: take the time to pick a good provider! This means looking at a firm’s long-term track record and the team who will be handling your work. It all begins with the vendor interview process, which I’ll explore in my next post in this series.