Monday, December 24, 2012
Building a partnership
It does not matter if the vendor is big or small, local or global, domain centric or broad based, custom solutions developer or provides package implementation services, hardware products or software licences, or any kind of service provider; they all want you to believe that they all are worthy of being anointed as a preferred and trusted partner to your IT and business initiatives. Everyone without exception believes that they imbibe behaviours that qualify them for this elevated position.
I am not sure when the transition happened but sometime in the recent decade the term partner replaced the vendor or provider. I think people went back to basics in the early part of the millennium driven by the slowdown, started focusing on leveraging existing ones and building new relationships. Business was tough to come and choices plenty which is where people made the difference. This subtle transition eased into our way of working and no one objected to the new reality.
Today we have partners providing total outsourcing, specialized domain specific or business process outsourcing, desk side support, apart from the various categories listed above. Many of these who have put in their heart and blood into delivering products/services irrespective of the contract or commercial arrangement are truly partners to a CIO and the enterprise; my respects to them. We also have partners providing toner cartridges, USB sticks, printing paper where price is typically the determinant factor !
Recently a CIO friend narrated a story where she met a new vendor where the discussion started with the intent that we would like to be your partners in success and not keep it transactional. The CEO and the team downward demonstrated high passion and commitment at the discussion table. They got engaged in a few projects as a precursor to what could be bigger things and achieve the status of a trusted partner. With many vying for the same business, it was seen as a prestigious win.
The slip between intent and execution has many horror stories spread across the industry. Senior teams from vendors attempt to build relationships with the CIOs, the sales team works with the domain specialists and the next level, and the delivery team which typically has no connect with the process starts discussions with the project managers and the users of the proposed solutions. And that is what transpired here too; one project was delivered well enough, the other killed the relationship.
What appeared to be a dream run became a moon race with surprises all through the journey ! The initial effort estimates did not fit the project reality; either the team who did the initial study did not understand the complexity and expectations or her inputs were ignored in the proposal. So there was an attempt to restrict scope to fit the resources allotted. That upset everyone involved; the CEO made a visit, so did others involved in the initial discussion. Much water had flowed and a dam was essential.
Restoring some sanity to the project with the vendor CEO approving the additional investment and some hit on the CIOs side too, the project looked like being back on track; but that was a false positive. The lack of trust made success elusive; the potential partnership gained adversarial tones with each pinning the blame on the other. It took some effort to bring everyone to a common understanding and move ahead.
Partnership is built over a period of time and is a function of delivering to promise consistently across the layers. It takes effort to sustain it and requires investments and transparency from everyone. Everyone hates escalations which result due to lack of communication and assumptions. In my experience I have found partnerships that have stood the travails of time when there is no gap in expectations on both sides. Sales transactions do not build partnership, they only address tactical need.