In my last blog article, I focused upon the procurement process, something that is sometimes neglected in projects and then when it becomes apparent it has a dramatic impact on the timeline of the project. In this article, we will be looking at the subject of third-party suppliers.

To an extent, I provided a clue to this in my last article. In effect working back from when something is required, we can plot out the time required to produce the deliverable, before that there may be some kind of approval process, before that perhaps a design process and prior to that agreeing what is required.

This all, of course, assumes that a third-party supplier has been selected and some form of agreement or contract is in place. Hopefully, their ability to deliver in line with expectations was validated as part of the procurement process. There are some people out there who will make all sorts of promises to secure an order or contract but will then not have the capabilities to deliver in line with expectations.

So we have a timeline for such providers from understanding what it is they are expected to deliver to their delivering satisfactorily to our project. Being able to monitor progress against this timeline should be a responsibility of the project manager, “out of sight, out of mind” is a cliché but it can all too often be the downfall for a project.

Similarly relying purely upon verbal updates and assurances that all is well can be a mistake, there is a truism “inspect what you expect” which is equally if not more applicable to third-party suppliers than it is to those we directly manage within the project team.

If you are dealing with a third-party supplier that is providing a deliverable to your project how do you manage them so that they perform in-line with your expectations and the needs of your project? Whilst your project is the most important thing on the planet to you for them it may be just another commitment.

If you have no established relationship with them or are unlikely to have an on-going relationship in the future how do you secure any kind of loyalty for your temporary association?

If the third-party supplier is providing some kind of design that needs approving how is the production of this information progressing? Could it be broken down into discrete elements rather than there being one whole design package being delivered?

Checking and approving what has been provided is the responsibility of the project manager, they may well delegate to a technical expert for the checking of information, designs and calculations but the PM will be the one who is responsible for confirming that the package is on schedule.

You need to make sure that your management of this responsibility is performed in line with the schedule so as not to give the provider any excuse should delays be experienced. There can be some providers who have very narrow windows of opportunity when it comes to scheduling production or manufacture of their deliverable. Missing a window can result in a significant delay to delivery which is something to be avoided.

Producing a deliverable away from the project is the responsibility of the third-party supplier but the Project Manager will need to know how it is progressing. Again relying purely upon verbal updates and assurances can be unwise, people all too often will tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to know.

In this day and age, electronic communications can allow for video links and perhaps inspections, however, it may sometimes be appropriate to physically inspect what is being produced at the place of production to be assured that things are on track. This may be time consuming and disruptive but if the item in question is a key element of the project it will be time well spent.

How will a third-party supplier deliverable be delivered to your project? If the item is a physical entity will it be easy to handle and manoeuvre on arrival? How will it be delivered and where will it be delivered to? Is delivery to be to where you are or physically to where the item is required? You may think the answers to these questions are obvious but it is not unusual for this sort of information to be distorted or neglected altogether or for assumptions to be made. You may be familiar with your working environment but it may not be so obvious to those who have not been there before.

In most cases, delivery will be the responsibility of the provider. Are there any physical obstacles to items being delivered to where they are required? I was once involved in a project where two VW cars had to be delivered for display purposes. All well and good but they were required to be displayed on a balcony four storeys above street level and the balcony looked out over a narrow mews street just off of Baker Street in Central London.

An experienced and competent supplier will probably alert you to their “on-site” requirements, they may also arrange a site visit to physically inspect the environment to which they are delivering their completed item to familiarise themselves with things and to avoid potential problems at a later date.

In doing this they may also provide you with a list of what they require should they be responsible for delivering their item to where it is required at your place of work. Access, power supplies, assistance and other factors may all be required by the third-party suppliers. Are you aware of what they need and are you in a position to assist as required? If they arrive on the appointed day and can then not make progress whose responsibility is that?

Ensuring that things are in place and ready for the third-party deliverable is the responsibility of the PM. If you can ensure a smooth and unhindered environment to the supplier it will not only allow the job in hand to proceed with minimal stress but will also make the supplier more amenable to you should you have a need to deal with them again in the future.

When does ownership of the deliverable transfer from the supplier to the project? Will you have some form of quality inspection as part of delivery? Does the item provide conform to requirements and perform as expected? These considerations may well be identified as part of the contract with performance expectations defined at the outset. Having a formalised handover process should ensure a smooth transition from supply to demand in such circumstances.

As you can see from this article there can be a lot more to managing third-party suppliers than simply issuing them with a purchase order.

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By: Baz Khinda

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

Published: 11 November 2014

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