Going through the traditional process of choosing the right organization to help you execute a key initiative is naturally very important. When you get closer to the final stages there is another factor in the selection process that you’ll need to assess – does the vendor’s style match your organization’s culture. You will want to know if there are any differences that will need to be addressed early on if you decide to go with them.
You should be very aware of your own corporate culture and how things get done where you work. I’m talking about the process of how successful initiatives are run. There are established procedures and expectations for being successful whether they are written down or not. It’s very important that you understand what those are.
In terms of the vendor’s style, while you will get a sense from the references you check towards the end of the process, I recommend bringing this up with the vendor directly once you have selected your top candidates for the final round.
Depending on the type of product and/or service you are purchasing the questions you ask will vary. Some that come to mind are:
1. For your new clients, what specific recommendations would you give them to make the project go as smooth as possible?
2. What are the key pieces of information you will need from us at different stages and in what format do you prefer?
3. How do you prefer to communicate with your clients and vice versa?
4. In past engagements similar to ours, what were some of the biggest challenges you encountered?
5. How do you mitigate risk and handle deadline shifts?
6. How is the signoff process managed at key milestones?
There are more that should come to mind as you prepare these yourself. The important thing to keep in mind is not to be too specific in terms of how they would handle your organization. You’re still in the sales cycle and they’ll want to tailor their answers to what you want to hear any opportunity they get.
Basically, what you are trying to get at is if there is a potential for problems in the process itself. An example is if your organization has a well defined and strict project management methodology that tends to be rigid you’ll want to know if your vendor is more fluid and unconventional. Same is true on the flip side – if your culture is more fluid you will want to make sure the vendor can roll with you.
You’ll also want to know if you are as prepared as the vendor expects you to be and if how you handle the process of reviewing milestone delivery matches theirs.
Other differences are in the formality and method of communications. If your team is more traditional there will likely be expectations of standard meetings, method of communication and protocol of who should contact who. Dealing with a vendor who is more egalitarian and prefers to keep a constant stream of information flowing via e-mail, a client portal and/or instant messaging can be an issue if it is not managed up front. Same is true the other way around.
And so on.
Identifying differences is not necessarily a bad thing. It really depends how many there are and if have the people in place to effectively serve as a mediator. If you have a top-notch project manager you can handle a good deal of variability. If not you will want to lean towards a vendor whose style fits in well with your culture. Or at least know what the potential issues are before you get started.