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How to Move Forward When the Client is Right, the Vendor is the Expert and Both Positions Create Con

Delivering Excellence in Your Initiative

You see many firms and vendors marketed as “the industry trusted advisor”, “your premier partner”, “the world’s best consultant”, “your best friend”, etc, yet you as the client still expect to get some kind of a deal working with the vendor, and the vendor expects to get paid for their services since they are the experts. Both positions are right, but how do you ensure both are treated fairly?

One of the biggest challenges with any initiative or project is understanding scope. Maybe the business users have not fully vetted their ideas and end up in a scenario like they want “something”, but just don’t fully know what “something” is. Maybe the vendor gets involved to help, and together the stakeholders and the vendor begin to develop a solution.

Without proper controls in place such as agreed upon governance procedures for changes, boundaries to what the capabilities are within each organization, transparency to the end goal and “playing close to the chest” could risk expectations not being met.

I had a project integrating an SAP tool with a government agency and as such, a moving target for the requirements. The previous Project Manager was moving on and I was brought in to reign in the out of control, spiraling budget. The business viewed their expectations as not being met, and the vendor kept trying to accommodate every change and charging for the rework. The challenge was managing cost and schedule impacts from each change the business, and the business expected the vendor to be the experts. Both positions were correct, so how do you mitigate the risk of not getting what you are paying for or being paid for?

We renegotiated the previous contract from time and materials to a new contract with milestone payments as well as penalties and bonuses accordingly. The client and the vendor agreed what would be in scope and what would not and any change followed a detailed process that would assess the time and cost impacts as well as any enhancement prioritization if needed. The milestone payments forced the business to really put forth as much effort as they could to detail what they wanted, and the vendor then had the opportunity to understand the requirements as they were at that time and provide a valid estimate for the work. Both positions were moving to a win-win scenario.


Both the client and the vendor successfully met each other’s expectations by communicating frustrations and needs to move forward and revisit the scope expectations. No more changes could come from the business “on the fly” and impact time that resources were working without a proper impact analysis. The reality is that the business was previously asking for what were considered very small functionality enhancements, but the sum of those started adding up to large chunks of time away from what was previously agreed upon.


Once the client and vendor were re-engaged, the scope became transparent. Wants vs needs vs nice to haves were discussed and agreed upon in writing to define the line in the sand to move forward. Of course there were controls in place if changes were wanted/needed, but now they were being tracked to avoid any finger pointing later on. The vendor was eager to meet the expectations of the client, but now there was decision point data that everyone contributed to.


Tasks were transparent and monitored. Contingency was built in to accommodate minor changes with resource loads, holidays, etc. People were no longer scrambling to get something down constantly under pressure due to frequent change in direction. Resources were no longer over worked and as the new contract was much more defined than the previously contract, the vendor could better utilize their staff across multiple initiatives.


Costs were transparent and manageable under the new contract. The client had a need to have a re-training session for their support team due to org changes and other shifts in the resources. The impact was assessed and agreed to before the vendor halted their duties to refocus on delivering training.


The new contract based on milestone payments was now fair for both the client and the vendor and fully transparent. The ambiguity previously identified as a risk to interpretation was mitigated (and previously did become an issue of understanding between what was agreed to and what was delivered up to that point prior to the contract renegotiation for milestone payments). The risk of not delivering to the client expectations was now mitigated.

Trusted partner or best friend in the world, expectations need to be transparent and changes need to be doable. Understanding the position of the client as well as the vendor will be your first step to achieving success, no matter what your initiative.

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