When (Outsourced) Projects head South

I’m a native Northeast guy, but I spent 7 years in the South (Tennessee). I enjoy visiting there when I can. But there’s one time when you really don’t want to head in that direction, and that’s when the project you’re working on with a vendor goes south!

It happens. More often than anyone likes to talk about (hey, it’s embarrassing for both client and vendor, you know?). Not only in pharmaceutical training & marketing, where I do most of my consulting, but in other industries, stuff goes wrong and reputations get hurt.

There are four main reasons why project failure happens:

  1. Inadequate definition of the project itself;
  2. Poor choice of a vendor/provider, dooming the project from the get-go;
  3. Unproductive vendor management/partnering practices;
  4. Lack of sound and agreed-upon project management processes.

I’ve seen each of these (alone or in combination) make shipwreck of potentially successful projects. And while it is always easy to blame the vendor, many times the fault lies with the client. And often, it’s not due to bad intent – it’s just that client personnel who are charged with making the project happen are ill-equipped to carry out the necessary steps.

The first step – project definition – absolutely has to be done right in order for anything else to work. If you don’t know how to map out a design/requirements document, and how to craft a Request for Proposal (RFP), then by all means, engage some professional help – any money you spend getting the project well-defined will be paid back many times over by not experiencing misunderstanding, scope creep, and time/budget overruns.

The other three items warrant their own posts – I met with a client recently who was bemoaning the difficulties that occurred with one recent training endeavor, and it was clear that things started going off the rails immediately upon engagement with a vendor that probably was not an ideal choice. Even a well-defined and well-managed project can be torpedoed if the vendor/partner is not an optimal choice.

What do you think? What have been the elements leading to project failures that you’ve seen or experienced? On the positive side, what has contributed to outstanding outsourcing success? Share your thoughts in the comments!