A guest post from Project Manager, Tim Rix.
As a customer, you rely on the expertise and knowledge of your supplier when making changes to your systems.
Fortunately you have a contract, a commercial relationship and goodwill all working in your favour to provide clarity of responsibility and allow you to manage the process. But this gets a lot more complicated as soon as you add a second supplier into the mix. Difficulties in understanding roles and responsibilities, technical challenges, and lack of simple communication can result in frustrating delays, additional costs and lost benefits. So how do you avoid this scenario?
Taking some simple steps at the outset will help to avoid the most common problems. Here are our top tips for managing multiple suppliers:
- Who’s who?
Your two suppliers may have never worked together, or even had a discussion until the project is well underway. So what happens when one has a problem or a question? Having a shared record of contacts with responsibilities at all three organisations will be of great benefit. Ideally, get this in place before the project starts and ensure it is maintained. That way neither of your suppliers can make excuses about not being able to talk to the right person.
Include the following:
- Technical contact(s) – Get both suppliers to identify the subject areas they expect to need to discuss and ask the other to supply the details.
- Account Management – What if there is a commercial question or a stalling point? Having a contact at both sides who has the responsibility to resolve the problem for you will help.
- Service Desk – If some parts go live before the project is fully completed then it is likely that a Service Desk or Service Management function will deal with matters associated with that live element. Knowing how to raise issues with each other correctly will speed up resolution.
- Service Desk Escalation – With the best will in the world, a supplier may not respond as you need them to on occasions. Knowing how to escalate issues will avoid having important issues sitting unresolved due to process or lack of understanding.
- Your key contacts – Make sure both suppliers know who to talk to and how to escalate within your organisation. Your team will often have a ‘day job’ alongside being involved with a new system or project. As a result, they may not always be able to respond as quickly as your suppliers need, the knock-on effects can be costly if both suppliers are waiting on answers.
- What can I expect from my suppliers?
Your suppliers will most likely be working to internal standards of how responsive they expect to be. Visibility about these standards is a good starting point. Be aware that project work and live support work may be subject to different standards and ensure you know which apply. Challenge them and have them documented, they are an important tool in any escalation that is necessary. Make sure they are suitable and shared with all parties.
You can include service levels in contracts, or you can work to an SLA (Service Level Agreement) that is non-contractual. Be realistic about what is achievable. Setting unnecessarily stringent targets can result in your suppliers spending too much time trying to meet the target and not enough doing what is important to you.
- What do my suppliers expect from me?
Well, it’s very similar to what you want from them. They want to know how quickly they can expect a response. If they know there isn’t going to be an answer for two days, other tasks can be started. Otherwise, two days can be wasted chasing an update that isn’t coming. Be clear with the supplier and your internal contacts what can be expected. Remember, project delays are often created by the actions of two parties, not just one.
- How can my suppliers work together?
The closer your suppliers work, the more likely you are to have a successful project. Get them on conference calls together (not all the time though, it’s difficult to write your system if they are constantly on the phone). Have a clear communication strategy – written updates, conference calls and in-person meetings can all be included.
Ensuring that both suppliers are able to test their developments is key. Without good testing environments, your suppliers are working in the dark and major reworking may be necessary, adding delays and costs. Below is a list that you need your suppliers to adhere to for best results:
- Systems that can be used without impact on live systems and data
- Documentation, including examples
- Data that is realistic, and reflective of a live environment
- Login credentials for both testing (reflective of live user access) and development purposes
- Connectivity and endpoint details
- Details of available hours/dates of test systems
- Known limits of test environments
- Where necessary, copies of software with installation, configuration and hardware requirements.
This is a good starting point, discussing these requirements at the outset of the project will increase its chances of success. If possible, get this agreed as part of the contract. Testing can take longer than development in a systems integration project, so ensuring it will be of good quality is critical.
- But what if I can’t get everything agreed, do I cancel?
Maybe you do, but not before you get your suppliers talking and see if there are other ways to address issues. It is generally in the interest of all parties to have a quick and successful project, so it is unlikely anyone is being deliberately obstructive. Getting the two suppliers to work through issues may get you to a satisfactory point and allow you to continue.
Making the effort to follow these tips at the beginning of a project will make developments with two or more suppliers much smoother. If, however, you’ve already started a multi-supplier project, you can still take advantage of these tips to prevent potential costly delays. For more help and advice about working with third parties, contact your Project Manager or email@example.com.