Clients will often make deals or sign contracts with other companies and individuals to build out a their products its a core foundation of business. The client feels as though things are aligned and moving forward on their product and nothing should be standing in their way. The client and their vendors start completing milestones and deliverables on time - everything feels great, but, in some cases, things start to change. The vendor starts pushing deadlines (which can happen), they stop communicating with the client, they have the client sign off on milestones that were not truly completed, and, the worst, they leave the client with a product that their audience cannot use. I have had many clients come through my doors talking about how this was the second or third iteration of trying to develop their product and how defeated they were feeling in all of the transitions and failures. Not only does it cost them lots of money just to keep getting stuck in the same situation over and over, but it also starts to degrade their trust in others..
These types of situations can occur often. Sometimes it does come at the fault of the vendor that the client has chosen to help them develop their product, sometimes its just a natural change that occurs on both sides, and, to be honest, sometimes the client can cause the situation to happen by not being a responsive and respectable client. I have seen all three scenarios occur and it can often lead to unnecessary friction and tainted relationships. In order to prevent yourself being caught off guard by these possible scenarios, the best advice I have to offer is to be aware of the reality of product development. You may look at it as a business doing business, but we are talking about individuals who have personalities and quirks that are doing the work. A business may appear to be neutral, but a business is entirely made up of people whcih voids the neutral appearance.
We are all aware that people can change due to experiences and events occurring in their lives, and businesses will do the same as well. Things can happen to a business that will require them to drop a project or to slow down the development process of a project. The worst way to react to this situation is to not open up a communication line between you and the vendor to discover why this is occurring, instead of immediately pointing fingers and throwing accusations around. As a client, if you are able to listen and understand your vendor then you are doing your due diligence as a great client. If the problem continues to exist, then you have taken the necessary steps to allow you to change your vendor.
Businesses often are represented by their leaders. The personality of the business comes through the representatives that you are working with. However, businesses can change leadership which shakes up the personality of the business. You may have had an excellent relationship with one leadership team but a completely different or absent relationship with a new leadership team. This situation can cause frustration on your end, but I strongly advise you to try and make a relationship that works with the new leadership team. However, it is perfectly fine for you to want to leave the vendor if the new relationship does not work for you. Its better to find a vendor that you feel comfortable and who works as your partner both in a personal and professional manner.
Now that you are aware that business relationships can change, and that it is perfectly normal occurance, how do you actually find a vendor that you can really trust? Honesty is the biggest indicator, just as in your personal relationships. Sometimes it can be hard to detect an honest business as you may have to deal with multiple individuals at once to complete your project. I have found that looking for two key elements can help you identify which vendors are most likely to be honest with you.
The first element I look for is the “I do not know” statements. In the world of software and development the atmosphere of competition requires a lot of developers to have to act as they know it all. In some scenarios, based upon their experience, a developer could in fact know it all about a particular technology or process, but the reality is that no developer knows it all. When I would interview new developers for my company, I always wanted to hear the answer I do not know, but I will learn. That statement informed me that the individual knows their own limitations and expertise and that they are not in the business of trying to convince you just to choose them. When applying the same evaluator to a vendor, the vendor is more likely to be honest about situations and problems that may occur during the development of your product rather than one that will try to cover up the fact that there is a problem. As a client, you should respect the honesty and use that as a comfort that the vendor has your best interest in mind.
The second element is actually identifying when a vendor has your best interest in mind beyond honesty. This can be a difficult element to identify since it comes through how they work with you on your product. I find that vendors who provide a break down of the possible ways to do something with the pros and cons associated with each way to be a key sign of best interest. The vendor is clearly showing you that your product can be achieved in multiple ways and they are giving you the general information needed in order to choose which direction best suits you and your product. I also find that if the vendor provides you with their own suggested path that they usually trying to be helpful to you. However, sometimes they can use that tactic to sell you the highest profit solution for themselves. Just make sure your vendor is informing you of all of your options before you make a decision.
I cannot count the times that new clients have been blind sided by something a vendor has done just because they were not aware something was occurring. Transparency is a huge factor in not only making sure your relationship with you vendor stays healthy, but it ensures that you are aware of what things are being done, when they are being done, and on some level how they are being done.
Ask you vendor for a process map. Your vendor should be able to give you a written or visual form of their process. This process map will allow you to know the steps the vendor will be taking to execute your product and which pieces of that process will require you to be involved. A huge warning sign is that if you are not included in the process map after the start of the project. This means the vendor is not including your feed back or needs as they develop out your product. This is how you end up with a product you never asked for, but one the vendor envisioned for you.
The other item you should be looking for is a communication process. It is not good for you to be in constant communication with your vendor. This can actually increase the development time of your product or introduce unnecessary problems in your relationship with the vendor. However, no communication with you vendor is just as bad as well. No communication can lead to work being done that you have never approved of, or adjustments in your product that you never asked for. The best thing a vendor can do for you is to provide some communication procedures. These procedures will outline the best way to handle a situation, if one arises, as well as what channels of communication need to occur to achieve clarity. It could be weekly phone calls, bi-weekly meetings, or even an email process. As long as your vendor is providing a communication process, they are most likely to listen and keep you informed on everything.
Beyond a vendor being able to develop your product, the best way to trust your vendor is to apply a personal touch to your relationship with the vendor. Use your gut feeling about the individuals you are working with to help you make the decision if you should trust them or not. Look for the traits of honesty, look for transparency, look for communication procedures, and lastly be aware that things can change between you and your vendor. By actively looking for these traits, you are prepping yourself to better handle the case of when something goes wrong.