Vendors bring a lot to the table when it comes to planning and executing projects. But savvy PMP®s have learned that a vendor’s value often extends far beyond carrying out the core duties the Project Team hired them to do. There may be expertise and resources lurking under the surface that project teams overlook. If you want to get even more out of your external partnerships, be sure you’re asking new and existing vendors the right questions.
What experience does the vendor have working on projects that are larger, longer, or more complex than this one? PMP®s typically focus on finding vendors with expertise along a narrow corridor—the one that most closely mirrors the organization’s typical projects. Unfortunately, that could lead to missing out on some excellent expertise and guidance. Instead, consider querying vendors about their history working on projects that required more or different resources, whether that means a larger labor pool, a supply chain that encompassed multiple manufacturers of the same type of product, or the use of experts in niche fields. A vendor’s knowledge about economies of scale, for example, may come in handy someday.
Which other industries does the vendor serve? Even if your Project Team’s portfolio is a limited slice of project types, there may come a time when something out of the ordinary hits your radar. In those instances, you’ll be glad you know where to turn for support. By finding out more about each vendor’s areas of expertise and niches where they frequently work, you may also discover synergies—with suppliers, with other external business partners, even with other potential vendors outside your current network—that could be valuable to the team down the road.
Are there services the vendor provides outside those your project team is already using? Some of your vendors almost certainly have competencies your Project Team hasn’t yet leveraged. Do they offer customized training? Can they provide long-term contract personnel? Do they act as a reseller of equipment? Do they have affiliate relationships with other providers? Most vendors are skilled at selling themselves but your team may have advance knowledge of an upcoming need that’s different from the goods or services you’ve purchased from your vendors in the past. By understanding where resources are available, you’ll be able to move more quickly when a new need arises and potentially be able to get preferred pricing by turning to your existing vendor relationships.
How much engagement does the vendor normally have with stakeholders outside the project team? This question is particularly important if you expect the vendor to communicate directly with your end users or other internal parties. A partner without a lot of experience managing information flow outside one or two primary contacts could end up fumbling when it comes to gathering data from internal departments or scheduling work disruptions with end users. Conversely, you may find a vendor has a strong history of working directly with stakeholders. If that’s the case, they might have technology tools—automated surveys, project status applications, etc.—that would helpful in augmenting your existing practices.
Which industry or trade groups does the vendor belong to? Vendors are sure to participate in groups that have little to do with your project team’s interests, but you may find some new resource channels you didn’t know about before if you’re willing to do a bit of digging. From professional associations to industry-specific online forums, your vendor’s sphere of influence might direct you to new avenues for a variety of things, including connecting with new trainers, finding potential employment candidates, identifying complementary vendors, and learning about new technology tools.