Walk Towards the Problem

I’ve been working towards my Lean certification and have been involved in a difficult, albeit amazing Lean project. I asked our Master Black Belt how we should approach a certain situation on the project and his words of wisdom were, “Walk towards the problem, not away from it.”

This blew me away. How many of us truly “walk towards the problem”? Most of us want to run screaming away from the problem! However, in Lean, it’s much different and I believe that’s why I love it. How many of us whine or complain when the going gets rough? Do we really give it the “ole college try” or do we throw in the towel too early?

This week I challenge all of us to “walk towards the problem”!

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Do You Have a “Shady” Vendor on Your Hands?

sneaky vendorHow do you know if you’re dealing with a “shady” vendor? By “shady” I mean that they’re not 100% upfront, they’re hiding something. What that something is, you may not know, but you’ve got to get to the bottom of it.

Here are some “shady” identifiers for you to consider if you’re questioning the vendor’s background:

1) Is the vendor telling you that you HAVE to get the deal done by a certain time with NO flexibility? Almost every vendor will push you to get the deal done by the end of the quarter, but they’ll usually work with you if you’re really in a tight spot. If “Slim Shady” isn’t giving you any flexibility, start questioning why, because maybe your money is the only thing keeping them in business at the end of this quarter!

2) Dig deep into the vendor’s financials. Do you run a Dunn and Bradstreet financial report on all of your vendors? If not, you should. There’s a fee involved, but it’s worth every penny (I’m not a sales rep for D&B, I swear). Take a close look at the report and if it reads like hieroglyphics or ancient sanskrit to you, ask someone in your finance group to review it. The D&B report will provide a very in-depth look at their financials and allow you to understand if you’re entering into a 5 year deal with a company that may go bankrupt in a year.  You can also ask for the past 3 years of the company’s financials in addition to the D&B report.

3) The vendor won’t consider Termination for Convenience language in your contract (or if they do, they’ll penalize you so badly that you’ll never Terminate for Convenience). Ok, don’t tell me that your company can deliver a best in-class solution when you can’t  give me reasonable termination for convenience language on a multi-million dollar deal. If I can’t get Termination for Convenience language that meets me halfway, I consider the vendor to be shady and the reason for that is, if they can’t stand behind their product, what’s the point?

4) Has the vendor removed the Bankruptcy language from the contract during negotiations? This is a HUGE red flag. If their financials are bad, they won’t consider Termination for Convenience language AND they’ve removed or altered the Bankruptcy language in the contract…well, it’s time to walk away because these are signs of a vendor who’s about to go out of business.  This is especially important to consider if you’re in the cloud space, because the return of your data by the vendor is still a question mark. The vendor can go out of business, turn off the lights and all of your data could go with them into Davey Jones’ locker, never to be seen again.

The best advice I can give is to perform as much due diligence as possible on a vendor that you suspect could be “shady”. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions upfront!

Considering a Proof of Concept or Proof of Technology?

Are you or your IT Department considering a Proof of Concept (POC) or Proof of Technology (POT)? If so, here are a few things to think about:

1) What do you need the vendor to provide in the Proof of Concept / Proof of Technology?

2) Do you have concrete business requirements to ensure that you’re measuring the Proof of Concept / Proof of Technology correctly? If not, it’s important to ensure that both you and the vendor understand the requirements for the Proof of Concept / Proof of Technology.

3) Do you need to use a legal agreement for the Proof of Concept / Proof of Technology? If you’re unsure, check with your contract management, procurement or legal team and ask them. In fact, they may need an Agreement in place before the Proof of Concept / Proof of Technology begins. Ask them ahead of time to ensure that this is included in your project planning, as Proof of Concept / Proof of Technology engagements can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. In addition, the contracting effort may take a few months itself if your legal team and the vendor don’t agree on the contract terms.

4) Are you evaluating a cloud solution in the Proof of Concept / Proof of Technology? Some vendors may tell you that a Proof of Concept / Proof of Technology isn’t feasible for a cloud solution, but this isn’t correct. You can evaluate a cloud solution with a Proof of Concept / Proof of Technology.

Here are a few articles that will assist you as you consider the Proof of Concept / Proof of Technology:

Dealing with Difficult Vendors

kidHow do you handle problematic vendors? What do you do to tackle the realm of difficult vendor personalities?

In my former life, I was a teacher. So, when working with difficult vendors, I see them as my fifth grade students. They may stomp, cry, whine or be completely disrespectful, but they’re still kids. Vendors are people, too. If I stomp, cry, whine or disrespect them, where does that get me? Not very far. I’ve gone down that route and it never seems to pay off in the long run. Why not? Why doesn’t this approach work?

I’ve asked myself this over and over again through the years. Working with problematic vendors is an interesting mix of psychological warfare and intestinal fortitude. In the end, it comes down to a partnership. For the most part in my daily work, I run into vendors that are fair, open and fairly easy to work with. This is the 80%. Then, just like the problem students who are constantly in detention, there’s the 20%. The vendors who play hardball, love to make your job difficult and enjoy saying “No”.  Do you remember the problem kids when you were in school? The teacher seemed exasperated when dealing with these students, and as she raised her voice, the student would raise their voice. It would go on for what seemed like hours, only to end in a trip to the principal.

How do we avoid “trips to the principal”? We begin by understanding the root of the issues with questions such as:

  • Why is the vendor on the defense?
  • What caused this reaction?
  • Who had the vendor been working in the past within your organization? Was this relationship a good one or a contentious one?
  • What are their demands and why are they making them?
  • Is the vendor trying to make their end of quarter sales quota and they have to show a certain amount of revenue recognition? This seems like a no-brainer, but if you’re not in the business of living and dying by quarter end sales, you may not understand how important this is to the vendor.

So, the next time you feel like giving the vendor on the other end of the phone a piece of your mind (not to mention a large part of your sanity), take a step back and think about the best approach to strive for a win / win relationship, turning a problematic vendor into a supportive partner.