All too often a project fails because of a breakdown in the relationship between customer and vendor. Enter the case for an independent ‘broker’ to keep everyone honest
It’s an all-too-common situation when we look at projects that are in trouble, very often the culprit is a breakdown in the relationship between a customer and a vendor. Eyes have been taken off the delivery of the scope and vital energies have been diverted from the project to dealing with conflict management.
This breakdown can lead to a damaging blame culture and ultimately threats of commercial penalties from both sides.
Given the prevalence of this at times toxic vendor-customer dynamic in a failing project, we’ve identified the systemic issues that often arise and how to avoid it happening to both your current and future project delivery capability.
The key takeout? Our review shows that having an independent partner with a mandate for keeping all parties honest generally leads to better outcomes.
So what do you need to be aware of at the beginning of a vendor relationship and how can the engagement of an ‘honest Project Delivery broker’ help turn your projects around?
Governance – Avoid Creating an “Us and Them Culture”
Promoting an open, transparent conversation between the customer and the vendor can go a long way to avoiding a breakdown in a project’s delivery.
In a number of instances we found that whilst a critical stakeholder in the delivery of the project, vendors are frequently left off the overarching steering body (e.g. Project Steering Committee). Internal Project Managers typically provide updates, which can present a siloed view of progress, risks and issues.
Where a vendor’s performance has been questioned, there is often no open forum to present their case or work collaboratively to create “one team”, which can lead to an “us-and-them” culture – the first step on the path to failure.
Of course, there are instances when it isn’t appropriate to include vendors in the reporting process, particularly where there are commercial sensitivities involved.
Quay takeaway: The engagement of an honest broker promotes open and transparent discussions across the key stakeholders to drive effective governance by a unified team.
Project Management Plan – Create and Manage to a Single Integrated Plan
A Project Management Plan is essential to avoiding a disconnect – and often misalignment – between the various resources delivering a project. The Project Management Plan should clearly describe:
- The end-to-end schedule
- A complete Work Breakdown Structure
- How the project will be managed (e.g. PMBOK: time, cost, resources, procurement, integration risk, stakeholders etc.)
The disconnect often becomes a divide when a vendor is seen to be project managing, as they are naturally focused on delivery their component of the solution (e.g. software implementation, configuration and so on) whilst in many cases, no one is managing change, benefits or enterprise architecture.
Quay takeaway: The honest broker manages the project as a single team delivering the entire scope of the project, irrespective of who the resources work for.
Business Case – Ensure the Validity of “the Case for Change”
Most projects start their life with a business case that justifies the reasons a project should be undertaken, including the context for the project, its scope and the outcomes it will deliver.
If a vendor is managing its delivery, the vendor’s focus naturally is on delivering their components, not the business benefits and the case for change. The problems arise when there is no clear link back to decisions made as to whether the project should proceed if the scope is changed or the benefits are revisited.
Quay takeaway: The honest broker holds the validity of the Case for Change as their number one priority. If the project is at risk of not being delivered on its promise, they call it out early.
Change – “A Solution Without Change Management is a Recipe for Failure”
A vendor can deliver the most eloquent technical solution in the world, but without managing the change impacts within the business, the solution’s success is at risk.
Successful technical deployment does not necessarily guarantee translation to a “successful project”.
Change management activities must be owned by the business as part of an overall integrated plan. It is not enough to have the business manage change and the vendor manage the solution: there must be an overarching plan with linked milestones and dependencies.
Quay takeaway: The honest broker understands the technical project management aspects as well as the human change elements in a project, then ensures all are proactively managed and appropriately linked as part of a single delivery.
Successful Projects Don’t Happen by Luck
Successful projects don’t happen by ‘luck’ and the old adage rings true: relationships are built not bought.
Engaging an ‘honest broker’ to manage the project means a business is far more likely to avoid a damaging relationship breakdown than if your solution is managed exclusively by the vendor or even your own internal project managers.
The independence of the honest broker means they remain focused on the promise of the case for change, view the project holistically and build a strong single, integrated team from the top down regardless of who the project actors work for.
Their responsibility is to ensure these elements rally around the benefits of the business case, whilst also holding the client and the vendor to account. This is vital in eliminating the likelihood of an ‘us-and-them’ culture and ultimately the client-vendor blame game.
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