How to choose a Delivery Partner

November 16th, 2015

Companies often spend a significant amount of time and money selecting a new software product. This can be for many reasons, for example: to help fill a current IT capability gap, or to help make a business more competitive. Invariably, the company then often spends more time and money selecting a delivery partner. There are numerous approaches to doing this that range from the highly structured to, well let’s just say, less structured approaches. So what criteria should you really be looking at when selecting a delivery partner?

I have spent over 30 years buying and selling delivery capability globally, and from my experience the list below, if used correctly, will help with any selection and make the delivery experience much more enjoyable, rewarding, and effective.

  1. You must like the delivery team. This to me is by far the most important. You will be working with this team for months, often years and the team will become, to some extent, integrated into your company. I always tell clients if you don’t like us, don’t select us. Obviously a part of “like” is “respect”. Is the team open and honest? Does the team ask you questions and listen? Is the team insightful? Is the team one team or a bunch of individuals?
  2. Make sure you know the real delivery team.Far too often I have seen the “superstar” expert rolled out by a consulting firm. This expert demonstrates real experience and interest with the client, to give them confidence that the team can deliver – provided he/she is part of the team. BUT it is very important to understand how much time this expert or indeed anyone will actually spend on the project. Ask the hard question – “how many days per week will you actually be working on this project?” “How many days will you be on our site?” Don’t assume.
  3. Key resources must be named in the contract. Following on from liking the team, and know who is the real team, make sure that the contract backs this up by clearly stating the names of key team members. Again, don’t assume.
  4. Lowest price does not always mean lowest cost. Several years ago I was bidding for a piece of work. I knew our price was correct as our small team had done this type of assignment around 90 times before. The client informed me that the competitor’s fee was half our price. I knew our price was right and fair so I asked the client to find out how many times the competitor team had done this type of assignment before. The answer “once or twice”. We won the assignment and delivered on time and at the agreed fee. Experience counts not just in terms of delivery but also in getting the cost right.
  5. Be realistic about roles in the team. If you are paying a lot of money to deliver the new system then have the experts do it and manage them. Ownership must stay with your company BUT be realistic in your own capabilities. One problem I have seen time and again is where there is a joint project manager (1 from the client and 1 from the delivery partner). My simple advice? Don’t do this. Your company can appoint an internal Project Director, and the project manager can report to this person BUT the project team (everyone including the client team members) must report to the project manager. Keep it simple and straight forward.
  6. Look at the detailed plan NOT just the price. Price is important, that is not in doubt but too often a plan is cut during the pre-sales process to meet a target price. It is important to fully examine the detail of the plan. Recently, I reviewed a plan to implement a Supply Chain Management system in a major corporation over a 9 month period. The plan showed the project manager would only be working less than half time on this business critical project (and there were other similar issues with the planned resourcing). One of 2 things will happen: the project will fail; or the cost will increase, as there is no way the project can be delivered with a part time project manager. Examine all the roles and effort. Make sure the plan is real before you start. Also ask yourself, if my potential delivery partner submits a plan which likely won’t work then do I trust them?
  7. Know where the work will take place. With the increase in the use of an offshore model and offshore resources by most of the major consulting firms, it is critical to have control and knowledge about where the work will take place. I met with a CIO of a major global corporation recently and he was frustrated (even angry) about the change in location of the project PMO (Project Management Office). For 3 months the PMO had been “just down the corridor” and it was easy for him to pop in and get updates etc. as and when needed. Suddenly without any notice to him it was gone, and he found out it had been moved to India (I have heard this type of story many times). He had 2 simple questions: why was it moved and why wasn’t he asked? The simple answer is margin for the consulting firm. If you don’t want this type of thing to happen, then make sure any contract makes it clear that you have final say on where work will be performed.
  8. Ask, ask and ask. It may sound simple and obvious, but don’t assume anything. Make sure you ask the basic and blunt questions so that you know what you are getting. No surprises.

I hope this gives food for thought if you are going through a selection, or planning a selection, or if your delivery partner is not working as you had hoped, perhaps give us a call.