Before Blaming a Vendor for Sourcing Project Failure, Look in the Mirror

We’ve all seen a supplier fall asleep at the wheel. But in many cases, the client must consider its own role in failure.

vendor management

It’s easy to blame the contract or the vendor for the ills of project failure. When things go sideways, the client may be tempted to think the vendor failed or they may have chosen the wrong provider altogether just to reap some cost savings. “You get what you pay for” after all, right? The phrase certainly suggests you were dissatisfied in some way with the project result.

There certainly are cases in which the vendor is fully to blame. It may be due to staffing challenges, misunderstanding requirements, or underestimating the effort needed to make it work. We’ve all seen an example of the supplier falling asleep at the wheel.

In many other cases, however, the client must look in the mirror. Because a common underlying problem in project failure isn’t characterized by “you get what you pay for.” It is rooted in the following phrase: “You get what you asked for.”

Let’s explore the difference between these phrases. An external resourcing strategy can be built on a variety of foundations. The goal of an external or hybrid model is often cost savings. But sometimes it aims to augment internal technical capability or perhaps enhance the company’s flexibility to scale resources coinciding with the ebb and flow of business.

Regardless of the client’s exact desires, most vendors work tirelessly to align services and delivery with the current and forecasted needs. The supplier’s goal is to not only align the right resources at the right time, but also to provide solutions, alternatives, innovation, partnership, and more. It strives to accommodate anything and everything the client may ask for while maximizing the value it brings to you.

“You get what you pay for” suggests that what you contracted for was exactly what you needed. If that was the case, then when the vendor executed exactly what was agreed to in the “Statement of Work,” all should be good. Yet many projects don’t seem to end on such a high note.

That is why you must consider the alternative. Although the execution by the vendor is what you agreed to, was it what you actually needed? Could there have been a better way to accomplish those requirements or provide those services? Did the outcome provide your business exactly what it was purported to do? If it did, then it’s time to celebrate. If it didn’t, what happens next? Who is to blame? Did the vendor fail? Did you fail? Should you execute again, perhaps with a different vendor? How do you save face when management starts asking questions about where the value is? Is it time to engage with procurement and legal to delve into the contract to see what recourse you have?

For some that find themselves in this predicament, there are times when I would suggest you got what you asked for — but not what was needed. You asked for specific requirements or services while granting the vendor little to no opportunity to become a true partner and help devise the best ways to accomplish your real needs. The Statement of Work becomes the gospel, and deviation was not allowed.

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In many cases, vendors may actually know more about certain products and technologies than you do. Their experience with other clients, executing similar Statements of Work, may be of significant value to you. Vendors often see across a wider cross section of your business, especially when they have a significant position in your external resourcing program. They may see an opportunity to combine services they are performing in multiple portfolios, functions, or verticals of your business. They may have a Center of Excellence or a product offering that can augment and improve the execution of your requirements. They may be able to bring you added value in ways you never thought of.

When a vendor is limited to execute what you asked for — not help determine what your actually need to accomplish the goals of your program — you run the risk of failing to achieve the optimum value of the engagement. And in some cases, you risk total project failure.

Consider instead, defining what you want to do and what outcomes you would like. Don’t set a rigid process full of execution requirements. Don’t expect the vendor to arrive at your door as a subject matter expert on your application or development requirements. Carefully consider what you want them to do (and not do) so they can define how best to align with your needs.

Allow the vendor to define how best to accomplish those objectives and collaborate on a strategy that both sides believe can work towards those goals. Then, as the program grows, let it evolve as it needs to by allowing for flexibility and approach modification based on the combined knowledge between you and the vendor.

Above all, partner with the providers — don’t just hire bodies — and allow the creative juices to flow. If you are directing the vendor daily and expecting them to accomplish optimal value based solely on the level of detail you determined appropriate in the Statement of Work, you may be missing out on a multitude of benefits that a true sourcing relationship can offer.

That way, you won’t ever find yourself saying, “I got what I paid for.” You’ll be starting off your next meeting with management by saying, “We discovered a great solution — and our combined perspective and partnership has a lot more to offer.”

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