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 riskysufficient 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.
Is 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!
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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