Robert Plant, a writer for the HBR is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. His Six Rules for Finding the Right IT Vendor can be key to the success of your next outsourced IT project. Like Robert, I’ve broken these rules a few times – sometimes painfully…
Thoughts and additions to Robert’s rules:
Rule 1: This is absolutely key. Using independent advisors significantly reduces risk when selecting vendors for major projects.
Rule 2: Generalists vs Specialists. I’m a generalist who specializes in technology leadership and I completely agree with this point. Often my assessments lead to further projects that I’m not involved in – because a specialist is the right resource for the job. For example, I’m working with a client on replacing their phone system and provider. My job is to know the market and providers; where the specialist will do the actual installation. Also, be wary of the one-stop IT shop that can “do everything”. Good IT providers have clear areas of expertise and will tell you when something you want (an ERP implementation, for example) is outside their skill set.
Rule 4: Robert is right, prototyping is often more expensive. Managing agile-style projects requires a very different approach than your traditional projects. Done well, it can get you much closer to the target. How much documentation of requirements and specifications is something companies should carefully consider (and recognize the risks associated) before starting a project. I don’t agree that you should have complete formal specs before starting any project – there’s a happy medium that makes more sense for most projects.
This article strongly leans to IT projects, not regular “daily operations” service providers. There’s a list of other rules I’d put in place instead of 4-6 for those situations.