If your project needs you to work with a supplier, you’ll most likely go through an exercise to establish who to secure a contract with. Finding the right third party vendor for your project is a huge factor when it comes to a successful delivery. Making the wrong choice can be devastating if they then let you down or work in ways that are not conducive to your business.
This is an area covered in detail in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition) where there is a whole section on procurement and contractual relationships.
It’s so important to ask the right questions so that you have all the information you need to make the right choices. Here are 5 questions to ask during your procurement exercise – they won’t be all you’ll need (you’ll still have to go through the full vendor selection with a proper process – but they will help you to clarify that this is a company you want to work with.
1. Will you use our systems?
If your exec team are used to looking at earned value calculations then can your supplier help you continue to do that by providing the right information?
If your Project Management Office uses a particular project management software tool, will your supplier be able to use that too? Are they happy to track time in your app?
If they can’t work in a way that supports your existing processes you will have to establish as a team whether you are prepared to change the way you work to fit the vendor.
And I imagine the answer will be no.
2. What isn’t included in the quote?
The proposal from your supplier will include a stack of stuff that is in the quote, but might not be so explicit about what they are leaving out.
For example, does their proposal include:
- User training, or at least preparing the training materials for your own team to deliver
- Travel expenses
- Senior people from the company attending critical strategy or Steering Group meetings at your company.
- Working with other vendors to make the systems integrations work.
- Systems integration work in general.
- Any hardware, software or middleware required to make sure that their solution actually runs.
3. What else should we be budgeting for?
On top of the obvious things.
For example, change management: how much time and effort do their other clients normally spend on this and what do they recommend you budget for change management activities?
What go live support do they think you will need? Or, what go live support do you want? If this isn’t included in the proposal, ask them to cost up support to the level that makes sense to you. For example, if you have a large group of staff who are being asked to take on the use of a new piece of software, you might want individuals walking the floor of the office providing support in the first week. Or you might not, if it’s not a business critical piece of software.
Either way, it’s better to have those conversations now so you aren’t caught out later.
You can also ask them what contingency fund they think you should be budgeting for based on their prior experience of projects overrunning. This might help you move into a conversation about a fixed price solution…!
4. How much work have you done in this industry?
The answer to this question might not matter to you at all, and there could be a host of reasons why you are choosing to work with someone who has no industry experience.
But it is always helpful to find out their background if you don’t already know it.
Can you teach them what they need to know about your industry in the time that you have? If you can’t, and it’s important, then you might want to consider going with a firm that does have experience working in your sector.
5. References, please
Always, always get references.
This can be feedback from past or current clients or a site visit to see their work in action. They may or may not choose to accompany you on client reference visits. I think it’s better if they don’t as I think that promotes transparency.
If you can’t get to one of their past clients, at least have a conversation on the phone or try to see the solution on video or at an industry event.
Do as much research as you can so that you are going into this contract with your eyes open.
You’re potentially going to be working with this supplier for a long time, so it pays to do your homework and be as confident as you can about what you are getting into.
Ask these questions and everything from your vendor selection process and keep asking until you are happy and confident that you are making the right choice.