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Working with Software Vendors and Third-Party Consultants Successfully

When planning a new software project, there are many decisions to be made. One that is central is the decision to engage a third party consulting partner. Whether it be for a small portion of your project, the project in full, or somewhere in between - there are some key questions to consider as part of your planning process.

First, who is the right partner for your project?

When assessing the field, it is essential to identify the core competencies of each potential partner. Do they align to the work you are considering them for? Is there evidence of deep expertise from similar projects that they will be able to draw from? If not, you may spend an increased amount of time (and money) bringing teams up to speed.

What are the vendors driving motivation? Does it align with your project success criteria? Motivation is something that while not always explicit; you should be able to get a strong feel for, especially after a few initial information gathering calls. If success for your project looks like eventual self-sufficiency, be aware of consulting firms whose approach may create long term dependencies, on the flip side, if a long-term staff augmentation model is what you need, be sure the firm is willing and able to make the long term resource commitments necessary to drive success.

Does the partner in consideration have a relationship with your software vendor? This can prove beneficial if/when issues arise that require attention from the product team, such as critical new features or bugs impacting the success of your project. In these scenarios, a trusted partner that can bring another voice to the table on your behalf can make a difference. For example, if your partner has direct access to the software vendors support team, this can make communication more streamlined. Likewise, the vendor is more likely to share additional information that could be useful for you with a partner. Conversely, you want to make sure the partner you're working with has your best interests at heart and isn't a rubber stamp for the software vendor.

Do the partner's actions imply that they will work with you, and not just “work” for you? Flexibility, availability, resource capacity and long term commitment of resources are all things to pay attention to ensure you don’t end up in a one-sided partnership.

Last but not least, a positive, “can do” attitude is essential in creating and maintaining a positive project culture. It should go without saying that this is a must for any partner.

You’ve completed your due diligence of third-party partner selection, congrats! While a huge first step, the hard work certainly doesn’t end there. You’ll need to have the right structures in place to ensure the partnership is set up for success.

Create a detailed RACI Matrix to ensure roles and responsibilities are crystal clear. Especially when there are multiple partners involved (this can mean internal partners as well, such as your IT team or advancement team). Each task or duty should have Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed parties named.

Your scope of work should be the guiding document for both parties, helping all involved ensure that the project is on track to deliver what is defined and expected for success. Know it, love it, refer to it often.

A strong Communications Plan will take you far in setting appropriate expectations and norms around communication. A vital part of project success is change management, and so much of change management relies on communication (and over communication). So this is a document that is always time well spent. Be sure you set clear expectations with the partners and vendors about how issues will be dealt with when they arise because they will occur. For example, if you're unhappy with a resource assigned to the project, a clear communications plan and expectations will help you talk with your partner about resolutions.

These are some of the things to consider when selecting a consulting partner. Past the planning phase? While these questions are great for planning, their utility doesn’t end there. Use them to decide if you’re in an active partnership that needs a reset? It’s never too late to get it right.

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