10 ways to ensure technology partners deliver successful project outcomes

Posted by Rochelle Smith, Principal Consultant on 20 January 2016

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With resources tight and specialist expertise at a premium, most organisations need to engage external parties at some point to deliver specific outcomes. But we all know how common it is for IT projects to fall short of expectations or to fail altogether, and things can get very messy when multiple parties are involved. I recently attended an ISACA seminar where Hamish White, an experienced Managing Consultant and Senior Program Manager, shared some practical steps you can take in dealing with technology partners to ensure successful project outcomes.

Hamish drew on insights gained from his 15 years of experience working on large, complex technology-driven change programs. As a business consultant at Optimation and current PMO advisor to one of our key clients, my own work also builds on past experience working with clients on large scale technology-driven transformation, so I was most interested in what Hamish had to say. Here, I summarise some of his key messages before reflecting on Optimation’s approach to partnerships.

Key success factors

Hamish began by asking how we assess relationships with technology partners. For me, the main message was for all parties to ask themselves, do we have common goals? Hamish followed this by outlining 10 steps he believes work well:

  1. Use a standardised, repeatable framework to engage all your technology partners. The framework below is an example for a traditional systems implementation engagement:project process
  2. Take time to define your requirements well, and know what problem you’re trying to solve. Ensure this is built in to the contract. Many businesses don’t truly understand their requirements or problem (e.g. they haven’t defined the problem statement), and this leads to issues down the track for all parties.
  3. Build and align to existing legislation and regulatory requirements such as NZISM (New Zealand Information Security Manual).
  4. Confirm resources that will be supplied by your technology partners and have the persons named in the contract, to ensure you get the A-Team you were sold!
  5. Ensure governance measures are put in place and well documented, so when things go wrong, everyone knows what steps must be taken.
  6. When awarding contracts, to mitigate risks don’t necessarily give all your business to one provider. As an example, Hamish discussed a three-way split along these lines:   
    supplier split
  7. When selecting your service partner, consider choosing one that is going to grow with your business, rather than one that has other customers prioritised ahead of you.
  8. Go public early with your choice of partners to make sure the market knows that you and your service provider are going to achieve good things together. This puts the reputation of your service provider on the line, too, and will help keep them true to your organisation.
  9. Most of all, when things go wrong, you want a partner that will react quickly and do the right thing for and your business, so invest in the relationship.
  10. Try and have someone you trust, accessible to you or on your team, who is a knowledgeable about your business (and preferably more than one person), as well as a strong PMO (Project Management and program management function) to provide you with independent assurance that vendors are behaving in your best interests. Hamish also discussed the concept of contracting separate vendors to supply services; a practice I’ve seen in the market place in recent times is the separation of “Business Integrator” and “System Integrator”. There was general agreement from the audience on the benefits this brings.

Common concerns and advice

Hamish then opened the floor to discussion, and some of the key points raised by audience members included:

  • Issues with off-shoring – a number of us have struck issues with engaging technology partners that utilise off-shore resources, so establish up front who, where and how the partner intends to deliver the solution. 
  • Doing your due diligence over vendors can help with the above issue and many others.
  • The importance of continuous monitoring to ensure your vendors live up to expectations set at the outset, and ensure privacy of your data etc.
  • Be careful not to give away the keys to your shop – don’t lose control of your information, intellectual property (IP) etc.
  • Implement stand-up meetings – morning meetings with all stakeholders. You can’t over communicate when it comes to “integration programmes”!
  • A number of people stressed the important role of a PMO and success factors related to a PMO such as:
    • Keeping accurate records and minutes of governance meetings so that decisions are well captured and can be referred to in future.
    • A central plan that provides visibility of dependencies across the portfolio of projects or programmes.
    • Ensuring Project Managers have detailed enough plans.

How does Optimation stack up?

With the benefit of experience in my previous roles in large corporates, I’ve considered how well Optimation’s approach to partnering reflects some of the advice given above:

  • As home-grown NZ organisation, we’re attuned to the concept of growing with our clients and investing in our relationships. Compared to engaging a large multinational, you’re more likely to get the team you were sold!
  • We trust frameworks and methods are key to successful client outcomes, but we're careful to balance this with a customised approach. This is achieved by working with our customers and delivery partners to tailor and harmonise the contributing methods, to best serve the specific engagement and to maximise the contribution from each partner and their resources.
  • We believe that innovation comes from great partnerships, but recognise it’s difficult for some organisations and in particular engagements, to share the associated risk. This is why we invest the time up front, ensuring alignment with stakeholder expectations before we commence the work, then continue to assess this throughout the duration of the project or programme. 
  • If you were to do your due diligence on us, we could provide a number of cases where we’ve proven our success, and we don’t have resources sitting offshore (which might keep you up at night worrying - about the security of your data, cultural differences and working around the clock to keep up the communications in different time-zones).
  • We have confidence in governance measures and hence we have the Project and Program Management service offering, along with an experienced team of Business Consultants who absolutely believe in the capture of business requirements and careful understanding of the problem/s our clients are trying to solve.
  • As an organisation, we also understand the digital landscape and the need to keep pace with change, while ensuring successful execution. So we balance formality of process and governance while recognising that often two speeds of projects need to coexist – agile and iterative for customer facing/engaging systems (such as mobile application development), and more conservative and waterfall for systems of record (such as the back-office systems that interface or interact with mobile apps).

So what's your take on this topic? What do you think are the keys to successful engagement with partners?   Please share your thoughts on Twitter (@optimation) or through our LinkedIn community.

And if we can help with your next project or programme, please get in touch.