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Monday, July 29, 2013

Working with vendors: Asking for a weekly status report

When the team works with vendors, there is always the element of doubt regarding the capabilities of the team with the vendor. In many cases, this may not be because the capabilities of the team with the vendor is any less, but because every product or project is different from the others, and it takes time for the team with the vendor to achieve the same level as the core team. However, this may not always happen; there may not be enough time for the vendor team to come anywhere close to the same level, and this time may not be available during the course of the project. This is one case, but there may be other cases where the coordinator from the vendor side may not be so competent, or there may be other reasons which is causing some sort of problems in terms of the client team feeling that there is some problem with the way that the vendor team is executing the project.
A number of these problems arise because of coordination and communication issues, and it is important that such matters be resolved; there should be a communication protocol setup to ensure that such matters don't cause conflict between the teams. There are several methods to have a regular communication process between these teams:
- Senior leads from both teams should setup a regular meeting for discussing issues (in my experience, this was a once in a week meeting that could be cancelled if there were no issues - this meeting was a big help to quickly reach conclusion on some meetings)
- A regular status meeting between the managers of both teams (such a meeting ensured that issues that were getting escalated were discussed and action items decided on how to resolve such meetings; in my experience, this meeting was also a weekly meeting that could be cancelled if required)
- The simplest way that we devised to highlight current status, ongoing items and ongoing issues was through a weekly status report. We discussed this with the managers and leads of the vendor teams, and then figured out a format which covered all these status items. For example, if there was an issue that was needed to be highlighted from the vendor team, they would put this in the report along with the other items, and this report was circulated to the entire team. This ensured that there was knowledge of what the vendor team was doing, what were the next items on their schedule and what were some of the major issues that they were facing. It also caused team members to flag issues where they had a different understanding from what the vendor had communicated, and quickly led to a resolution of issues.
We had asked the vendor team to ensure that this report was available every Monday afternoon, which also covered the entire items from the previous week, and on the odd occasion where team members were working over the weekend, these items were also incorporated in the report. A side benefit was that these reports conveyed an impression of the amount of work being done by the vendor teams, which was a subjective cross-check during the billing process.

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