Powerful, yet Simple Techniques That Can Help You Manage Suppliers
Bill Hoberecht - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.         

The published literature on the topic of managing technology suppliers is valuable, yet you are still facing problems with a supplier that doesn’t appear to be performing adequately.  Here are seven tips to supplement the practices your project uses when working with suppliers.

Utilizing A Few Simple Tips to Supplement Formal Supplier Management Processes

Working with a supplier to provide new technology is inherently risky – a seemingly endless supply of unknowns have the impact of impeding progressing and jeopardizing project success.  Widely available literature and materials on the topic of managing suppliers should be in the toolkit of anyone who has responsibilities for supplier performance management.  In a companion article, I highlight a few sources of valuable information.

Here’s the problem we all face: formal practices and methodologies don’t always deliver the goods.  They get you a fair amount of the way towards success, but victory still eludes the team.

Below are a few tips that I’ve repeatedly applied, with good results, in working with suppliers.  These tips supplement the formal established methods that your team may already be using.


Top Seven Tips - Powerful Practices and Informal Techniques

Sometimes a great tip gets lost in the plethora of information that is available to you on.  Here’s a short list of seven supplier performance management practices that work well: 

  1. Assign responsibility for supplier performance management.  Be crystal clear on responsibilities within your project for ensuring adequate supplier performance.  Those trusted with this responsibility must be trained and be qualified to take on this significant duty.  One of their first tasks should be to outline the ‘state of the art’ of supplier performance management, present their approach, and defend any decisions they have made to discard commonly recommended practices.
  2. Create a summary table of the supplier deliverables – used by everyone.  Have a simple description of deliverables being produced and delivered – at a minimum this includes a brief description, agreed delivery date for each deliverable, and current projected date for each deliverable.  Use this chart at the start of every meeting with the supplier – working sessions, supplier performance reviews, executive reviews.  This identical information is used everywhere, all the time; it helps keep everyone (stakeholders, team members, and the supplier) in alignment.  You may also choose to create a variant of this table that includes summary status information.
  3. Respond rapidly to supplier failure to deliver.  Don’t treat lightly any situation in which a supplier doesn’t satisfy their obligation.  While there is no need to rudely reprimand a supplier when a problem is encountered, there is always a need to have a professional discussion on the failure to perform,  reinforce expectations, understand root causes, and jointly take actions that will prevent recurrence.
  4. Solve Serious Problems at the proper executive level.  Every complex new technology project will encounter difficulties.  Prepare in advance by building working relationships with senior and executive management in the supplier’s company.  When a serious problem arises, avoid any urge you have to work this issue at low management level.  Leverage your executive relationships and get the proper attention needed to resolve the problem.
  5. Don’t waste time teaching the supplier.  You’ve selected a supplier because their company is qualified to meet your needs.  If you find yourself constantly encountering troubling situations in which individuals on that supplier’s team appear unqualified, then my advice is not to waste your time “teaching” the supplier how to perform their job responsibilities. Rather, take any such issues to a level of management (within the supplier’s organization) who can fix the situation.
  6. Water Cooler talks.  On some projects for which I have responsibility, I schedule periodic “water cooler” one-on-one telephone conversations with an executive in the supplier’s company – these don’t need to be long.  I have found that a private discussion results in an openness (in both directions) that would not be possible in open forums.  Create opportunities for informal interactions at all levels of management with the supplier’s organization.  These chats are a chance to go “off-the-record,” sometimes on very sensitive topics.   It is through these types of conversations that I’ve learned about problems the supplier is having as well as problems within my own team that are jeopardizing project success. 
  7. Attending the supplier’s internal program and technical executive reviews.  One significant measure of trust between you and the supplier is their willingness to open their internal executive status review meetings to you.  There’s not enough time in a day for your own supplier performance manager to attend every single project meeting that the supplier has (internal to their company), so you’ll need to know that the supplier’s own management team is doing a good job in running their project.  I think the best way to get this visibility is by requesting an invitation to attend the supplier’s internal status reviews and technical review meetings as an observer, not as a participant.  Based on your observations, you can gain a good understanding of how they are managing the project.  You can use this information as a basis for having  any needed discussions with the supplier on concerns that you feel they must address.  As well, you will probably find that your presence opens opportunities for strengthening intercompany relationships.


What’s Next?

Working with suppliers and achieving project success is always dependent on adapting going beyond the formal processes and methods that your company and project may have defined.  Adapt and employ my tips to your project situation - these practices and informal techniques could be the key success enablers for you.