One of my biggest pet peeves is client mistakes that occur managing vendor-led projects. (For those who don’t know, a vendor-led project is one where a vendor is hired to pretty much execute the entire project.)

I’ve worked at both Fortune 500 corporations and government agencies and the story is the same: in general, managing vendor-led projects is a challenge for most clients.

Recently I sat down out of sheer frustration and wrote out the mistakes I see being made over and over again. Here are my top 5.

Mistake #1 – Not having clearly defined requirements before even engaging a vendor

The Problem:

Vendors can sometimes make you feel like a kid in a candy store. They parade their bright, shiny products and services before your client and their eyes light up with excitement.

The product looks “sexy”, they claim it can do everything under the sun and it will run perfectly. The client jumps straight from product to contract without really understanding the problem they’re trying to solve.

What Clients Should do Instead:

Before, the client should research the topic, determine the problem they’re really trying to solve, what their overall objectives are and then define the requirements to meet those objectives.

This is “Project Management 101” stuff but it all starts here.

Mistake #2 – Not reading or understanding the contract

The Problem:

Many clients don’t really understand that they have entered into a legally binding contractual arrangement. They believe they can negotiate as they go along (while the contract is being executed) and still hold the vendor accountable. They may even threaten the vendor with loss of future business if they don’t do what the client wants.

What Clients Should do Instead:

At a minimum, the client should read the contract to understand: what is and isn’t in scope, the costs and payment schedule, project schedule, milestones, deliverables, change request process, terms of acceptance and what constitutes a breach of contract.

In some government agencies, this may not be possible.

Mistake #3 – Not taking into account the tasks and/or amount of work required on the client-side to deliver the project

The Problem:

Many times when clients engage vendors they expect everything to be in the plan. But unless it’s been specified otherwise, the only thing that the vendor is going to deliver is their product or service, period.

It typically doesn’t include the people, process and technology changes that need to be accounted for on the client-side. Because the assumption is that it’s all in the “soup”, there is usually little preparation on the client-side to address this.

What Clients Should do Instead:

At a minimum, the client should take the time to identify what people, processes and technology will be impacted by the introduction of the new product or service and what must be done to implement and manage that change.

Mistake #4 – Not having an experienced Project Manager on the client-side to keep the vendor honest

The Problem:

Many clients think “if the vendor is providing a Project Manager, why do I need one?”. Why? Because the Project Manager is out for the vendor’s best interest.

The vendor is out to deliver what was asked per the contract. A client who is not project management savvy may miss things that should be included in the vendor plan.

I’ve had to step in more than once to provide project management oversight to a vendor-led project just to protect the client from themselves. The client believed everything the vendor was telling them and several critical things were missing from the vendor’s plan.

What Clients Should do Instead:

The client should appoint an experienced Project Manager who is there to protect the client’s interest.

The Project Manager should have some experience with vendor management and be able to review and monitor the vendor’s plans as well as manage and deliver the client-side activities.

Mistake #5 – Trusting that the vendor can actually deliver what they say they can

The Problem:

I’ve actually heard a rep say “we’ll promise them anything just to get the contract” and it made me cringe. And I knew exactly what he meant because I’ve seen my peers scramble to try and create whatever was promised so that the contract could be fulfilled.

Unfortunately, some vendors lie and you can’t always trust that they will deliver as promised. This is a hard one to detect.

What Clients Should do Instead:

The client needs to be aware that there may be instances where the vendor may not be able to deliver what was requested despite what the requirements or contract say.

This is where checking vendor references and seeing and trying out product capabilities, if available, is strongly recommended. Also, the client needs to be aware of the breach of contract clause as a potential remedy if the vendor fails to deliver.

What can you do to help your clients?

These are the top 5 client mistakes I see within vendor-led projects.

But it begs the question: what can we do to help our clients avoid these mistakes?

The biggest thing we can do is to educate them. We can discuss the importance of vendor and project management with them and give them simple processes, templates and checklists to guide them.

While this doesn’t replace the need to have an experienced project manager by their side, it can go a long way towards setting the client on the right track.

And if you’re interested, here are free templates and checklists just to get you started.

About Guest Contributor

Juana Clark Craig is the author of the Amazon Bestselling book “Project Management Lite: Just Enough to Get the Job Done”.

As a project management professional, Juana has over twenty-five years of project management and PMO experience working for Fortune 500 corporations and government agencies helping organisations boost their project success rate through training, mentoring, and coaching.

She is passionate about helping people achieve their business and personal goals one project at a time. You may contact Juana at

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By: Baz Khinda

Baz Khinda
Commercial Director, BA, MBS, MCTS, CertBusM, PRINCE2, Microsoft P-SSP (Partner Solution Sales professional)

Published: 19 July 2016

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