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WHAT IT TAKES TO WORK TOGETHER

December 1, 2006
by LYN GIVENS
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Successful client/vendor relationships depend on collaboration, accountability, and honesty

In a vendor-based information technology project, there is an “arranged marriage” of sorts. Two parties, with little to no prior knowledge of each other and with varied backgrounds and motivations, share a common goal: a successful product installation delivered on time, within scope, and within budget. Like a successful marriage, a successful product installation depends on critical success factors, and a few of them are described below.

Collaboration

The first critical step is to establish a sense of collaboration, with executives from both the vendor and client signing onto the product installation. In addition, both sides need a line staff project manager to serve as a single point of contact.

From the kickoff meeting to postimplementation review, the vendor and client must act in unison and with a common purpose and goal. Executives on each side can establish and propagate a sense of collaboration in how they comport themselves in meetings and how they treat their internal and external partners. If the implementation team members sense that mutual respect, then they are more apt to mirror that positive attitude. The project managers can extend that goodwill by holding joint team sessions, sending out joint communiqués, encouraging open dialogue, etc.

Collaboration is manifested by having inclusive meetings in which key project players gather to discuss the project in its entirety, rather than focusing on only what needs to be done from the vendor's or client's perspective. Collaboration also can involve celebrating birthdays and project milestones together or even commiserating at the end of a long day at a local watering hole.

Accountability

Some clients are under the impression that vendors should do everything involved in a product installation and yet never miss a deadline. But the project will suffer if both sides don't operate in an equitable, collaborative environment and are held accountable for their share of the implementation. The project delivery date will be delayed if milestones are not met by either side, but a milestone usually has to be missed at least once before everyone realizes the negative impact this can have on the project's schedule.

Accountability involves documenting expectations, along with everything else: project and communication plans, roles, responsibilities, contingencies, vacations, maternity leaves, and even cell phone numbers. It is especially important to have detailed discussions around success criteria because every corporate culture has its own definition of when a task is completed successfully. Make sure both groups agree what a successful product implementation involves, how the product will work, and when the product will be ready for use. Too many times each party will make an assumption based on its own environment, which leads to miscommunications and misunderstandings. Lack of accountability equals uncompleted tasks—resulting in a delayed project schedule that in turn can create negativity among the project team and stress on the vendor/client relationship.

Honesty

Has there ever been a technology project in which everything went exactly as planned without a single “uh-oh moment”? Not likely. Uh-ohs are a matter of when, not if.

When something goes wrong, project managers immediately should be in contact. Whether it is a cost overrun, a technical glitch, or a resource constraint, if the parties are honest with each other, the vendor and client can design a solution together.

Partnering with an IT vendor on a product implementation offers tremendous benefits, especially since vendors have multiple installation experiences to build on. In fact, the client can improve the knowledge level of its own team and gain more than just a new product. But for such an “arranged marriage” to be successful, it needs to be based on a foundation of collaboration, accountability, and honesty.

Lyn Givens is Senior Vice-President, Operations, at Qualifacts Systems, Inc.

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