Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 20;   May 17, 2017:

Unresponsive Suppliers: I

by

If we depend on suppliers for some tasks in a project, or for necessary materials, their performance can affect our ability to meet deadlines. What can we do when a supplier's performance is problematic, and the supplier doesn't respond to our increasingly urgent pleas for attention?
Boeing 747-409LCF Dreamlifter at Edinburgh Airport

A Boeing 747-409LCF Dreamlifter (one of four produced) lifts off at Edinburgh Airport. Boeing uses the Dreamlifter, which is an extensively modified Boeing 747, to transport sections of its 787 Dreamliner, which are being engineered and manufactured at multiple locations worldwide. The supply chain includes companies such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries in Japan, Alenia Aeronautica and Global Aeronautica in Italy, Korea Aerospace Industries in South Korea, Boeing in South Carolina, and many more, for a total of about 50 suppliers. The complex of issues involving multiple suppliers has been so difficult to manage that initial delivery of 787s was more than three years late. I've found no reports of unresponsive suppliers, but one can certainly speculate about the frequency of difficult teleconferences for any project of this size (USD 32 billion) that runs over three years late. For more, see the Reuters Special Report, "A Wing and a Prayer: Outsourcing at Boeing."

Unresponsive suppliers are the bane of project schedules. Most planned organizational efforts must meet some sort of schedule. Efforts called projects usually have detailed schedules, which we take very seriously. But the schedule performance of any such efforts that require contributions from outside parties — generically called suppliers — is dependent on the schedule performance of suppliers. Problems can arise when a supplier fails to meet its commitments and doesn't respond to attempts to resolve the matter.

Three guidelines help to make solid relationships with suppliers:

  • Ensure that the relationship rests on a firm foundation of mutual respect
  • Maintain clarity and ease of communication
  • Be easy to work with and make only reasonable demands

Here are some tactics for preventing the problem of unresponsive suppliers, or dealing with it if it develops. In this Part I we explore the foundation of the relationship.

Verify that the relationship is in good standing
Before escalating any issue, consider the possibility that the supplier might be acting reasonably. Has your organization been paying its bills when due? Is any legal action underway? Is the contract still in force?
Ensure that the contract (if there is one) gives you what you need
A contract requiring that the vendor provide the level of service you'll actually need is helpful, not because it has any force, but because the supplier's having agreed to it usually means that you will be paying a fair price. If the contract doesn't provide what you need, seek a renegotiation. If that isn't possible, identify schedule risk in your risk plan and state that the risk can only be compensated, not mitigated. This is especially relevant in the case of long-term contracts such as leases of real property.
Know who in your organization can apply pressure
If you lack Threats you're unwilling
or unable to execute
are risky
sufficient clout yourself, determine which people in your organization can credibly press unresponsive suppliers. Let these people know well in advance that assistance might be required. Keep them informed of the scale and expected value of the damage that can result from the supplier's unresponsiveness.
Do not threaten idly
Threats you're unwilling or unable to execute are risky. If your supplier decides to test your resolve, and you don't follow through with your threatened action, the result will only damage your credibility.
Consider alternative suppliers
If your organization is a tiny portion of your supplier's sales, or if the supplier has other more pressing and lucrative accounts, getting the service you need might be difficult. Switching to an alternative supplier (if possible) might be the best available solution, even allowing for any consequent delays and rework. Run some projections to make a careful decision.

Next time, we'll turn our attention to preventive communication practices. Go to top Top  Next issue: Unresponsive Suppliers: II  Next Issue Next in this series

303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsIs your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Conflict Management:

Conflict Haiku
When tempers flare, or tension fills the air, many of us contribute to the stew, often without realizing that we do. Here are some haiku that describe some of the many stances we choose that can lead groups into tangles, or let those tangles persist once they form.
A 1940s-era trap fishing boatNasty Questions: II
In meetings, telemeetings, and email we sometimes ask questions that aren't intended to elicit information. Rather, they're indirect attacks intended to advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part two of a catalog of some favorite tactics.
Theatrical poster for the 1944 film Double IndemnityPolitical Framing: Communications
In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some communications tactics framers use.
The road to Cottonwood Pass, ColoradoBig, Complicated Problems
Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape.
The planet Earth on planet Earth on April 17, 2019Unintended Condescension: II
Intentionally making condescending remarks is something most of us do only when we lose control. But anyone at any time can inadvertently make a remark that someone else experiences as condescending. We explored two patterns to avoid last time. Here are two more.

See also Conflict Management and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A beach at sunsetComing August 4: What Are the Chances: I
When estimating the probabilities of success of different strategies, we must often estimate the probability of multiple events occurring. People make a common mistake when forming such estimates. They assume that events are independent when they are not. Available here and by RSS on August 4.
Main Reading Room of the U.S. Library of CongressAnd on August 11: Many "Stupid" Questions Aren't
Occasionally someone asks a question that causes us to think, "Now that's a stupid question." Rarely is that assessment correct. Knowing what alternative assessments are possible can help us respond more effectively in the moment. Available here and by RSS on August 11.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.