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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

My Private Project: Credibility of Vendors

In My Private Project series I try to compare reality of managing a private-life project (building a house) with projects we deal with in our professional lives. Today’s topic is credibility of vendors.

At the moment I have one main contractor to do the first part of building the house. Until they are finished with their work it’s hard to push other tasks – you definitely won’t plaster or put floor unless the roof is ready. Now I expected to have the first phase ready by the end of January. OK, it was very optimistic plan since I couldn’t manage a risk of poor weather (it can be frostily and snowy in Poland in January). Anyway there were only a few days when the contractor couldn’t work because of weather, so I was pretty lucky. Unfortunately the slip already is much more significant. There’s thing which is now seen clearly:

They knew they’d slip when they were signing the contract.

They agreed to cut their delivery date to get the project. This made me thinking about all these situations when our estimates were coming back from sales department with message asking us to cut them in a half.

Sounds familiar? It should. I played exactly the same role here as our customers often do. I set tight deadline to have some buffer on my side for other phases of the project. I was however sure the deadline isn’t impossible to meet. What more, I had offers which promised to complete the job 25% faster. That was quite a pressure on the vendor I finally chose.

In our professional lives we face similar dilemma when the customer expects we’ll cut one third of the schedule out. We don’t know whether refusing to do so will result is seeing our offer butchered or it would be all fine for them. Most of the time vendors play safe and cut schedules even when they don’t believe they can manage to deliver on time. Sure, no one would confess, but I’ve seen it way too often to believe it happens only occasionally.

The situation hits credibility of vendors but it’s a rarity to hear from them “sorry, we can’t do it faster so we won’t promise you to do so.” Actually the problem is self-inflicted by clients, but I don’t expect their approach will change anytime soon. Hey, I’ve just used the same pattern, haven’t I?

Whole my private project series

in: project management

4 comments… add one

  • Andrew Meyer February 3, 2009, 8:37 am

    Pawel,

    providing unrealistically short deadlines to win a project is like getting a “little bit married.” Once you’re married to a vendor or contractor, the costs of breaking the contract outweigh the benefits of going to someone else.

    You can put clawbacks into the contract, but someone has to absorb the costs and at some point they have to be covered.

    You can try making the contracts self contained enough that you can complete the contract and bid out future contracts, but that takes a lot of discipline.

    Do you think the current recession/depression will force people to bid contracts closer to what they think reality really requires?

  • Pawel Brodzinski February 3, 2009, 9:05 am

    I love “a little bit married” metaphor. Yes, after “marriage” no one will shoot you out when you miss a deadline but when a client clearly see they’ve been cheated at the beginning it isn’t a harbinger of a successful relationship.

    I don’t think recession would change the situation for better. I’m afraid it can become even worse. With less projects to get there will be much harsher competition between vendors and bigger pressure on project teams to present “better schedules.”

    The source of the problem is within clients – when they don’t squeeze deadlines they get more reasonable schedules. Vendors will always yield. The temptation to get the better delivery date won’t disappear so clients will press vendors to cut schedules until they understand it backfires on them (which won’t happen anytime soon).

  • Chris February 3, 2009, 7:49 pm

    As a client, vendors usually do things to set off my spider sense about their ability to get the job done on time. When this occurs, I feel that its incumbent upon me to establish regularly scheduled meetings to cross check schedules and mitigate risks.

    Its a lot of extra work, but if the deadline is real… then it needs to be met.

  • Pawel Brodzinski February 4, 2009, 2:57 am

    And that’s perfectly OK, since it’s the client’s (your) job to ensure the project is delivered as soon as possible, hopefully on a planned date.

    The thing hovewer I’m curious about is how (or if) do judge credibility of a vendor before project is kicked-off. Consider the typical situation: you get a bunch of offers and one of them looks fine except of delivery date. You tell the vendor “hey, we’d like to have it delivered in 4 months instead of 6, will you manage?” and they of course tell you they sure can.

    Now, what are your feeling about them?

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