Fertile ground & 3rd parties

14 10 2008

Last week, I had an interesting discussion with the owner of a web dev boutique, which provides my employer with development/project leadership skills for one of its products and it got me thinking about what I look for in providers, the kind of relationships I’ve built and what I’ve done it.

Most companies hire consultants or providers for all or part of the following legitimate reasons:
•    To obtain an objective review of a given practice, product or service within the company.
•    To produce a plan to correct a known issue or one uprooted by a review.
•    To train employees around a particular skill, not currently held by the company or in which in company training is out of the question.
•    To produce work around a subject in which the company isn’t currently able to focus resources or in which the company does not hold a certain skill.

Unfortunately, what most of us do is embrace the idea that outsiders hold a secret which enables them to understand in a short time span, without doubts, what our problems are and with the highest authority issue a single command that will change everything we find at failure in the ecology we dwell in.

Nothing further from the crude reality!

If we want to solve our problems, 3rd parties desperately need us to work with them. Do not forget that, after all it is YOUR problem and not theirs. Sure, their past experiences, knowledge base and networks will benefit the work ahead. But, it is your ability to “teach” them with clarity about your environment -what differentiates you and your problems-, your competence to analyze their work, and your ability to absorb the knowledge/skills needed to execute the needed work are what at the end will determine if you will benefit from a 3rd party relationship.

By having the experience of working with providers (S, M, L, XL) as hiring manager, project leader, and sponsor, I’ve learned some tasks that need to be done in order to found a fertile ground.

Every time I am evaluating a provider, to work with, I try to do the following:
•    Assess their willingness and ability to understand my troubles and me.
•    Understand whom I will be working with. Although their resume and a personal interview will suffice to evaluate their skills under the light of the problem to be solved, an evaluation might be required if what you are hiring is a given skill.
•    Evaluate if their company culture and the individuals would fit with our culture. It can get really nasty if there is a cultural clash between the “others” and your people; mainly because outsiders are always regarded at first as “… cocky, I know better bastards”.
•    Appraise their capacity to teach; at the end, it is you and your team the ones that need to solve the problem, operate the product/service or change the practice.

And once the work is started I try to perform these other tasks:
•    Explain to “insiders” what will “outsiders” be doing, why they’ll be doing it (instead of them) and how will the end result be used. This is very important, your team needs to clearly understand why you are willing to lean in someone other than them and what they and the company will gain at the end.

•    Establish a channel by which the parts involved can state if there are changes (individuals, skills, procedures, etc) needed in order to perform the work. This channel can be open, where every one can access the information, or closed, where only the people who are able to perform changes -eg. Project leaders, sponsors, etc- see the information.

•    Institute on my team roles by which knowledge/skills being absorbed can be reviewed and assessed.

This suffices for now. Don’t forget the golden rule: you are paying for a service that will solve a set of your problems, do not hesitate on asking for changes if they are needed. If the work goes wrong, the “outsiders” will end with a mere smudge on their badge and you will still have the problem in your hands and a wary team.




One response

14 10 2008

Too bad most companies learn this the hard way…..

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