The importance of working with an IT supplier who understands your specific goals

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When it comes to the health and performance of your company, only the best will do. That’s why having an IT supplier you can trust working on your major projects is critically important.

IT projects tend to be major capital investments and should result in significant returns for your business if done correctly. In order to manage the risk and rewards of large capital investments many companies have turned towards more iterative and incremental delivery methods rooted in agile and lean methods. This allows them to invest, see results and manage risk before further investing. In this instance, it is important that the supply chain is aligned and it is critical that you know your IT supplier is investing in its own team to better understand agile business practices and developing capability.

Here are three keys to working with a supplier that understands your specific goals.

1) Know what you’re looking for

Before you hire an IT supplier for any project, know what its core competencies are as well as how its skills are relevant to your goals and objectives. Not all IT suppliers are created equal when it comes to a major shift like moving to an agile operating model and unfortunately, the way they market themselves is often misleading and doesn’t speak to their real level of proficiency in agile and the ability to engineer great software at the speed required. So find out ahead of time if the team you’re considering is a good cultural fit for your organization.

Also take the time to ensure the supplier has the strengths you are looking for. For instance, if you are looking to develop a great new digital experience on the latest devices, look for a partner who has strength and depth working with cutting edge technologies, engineering tools and design.

Another major point to consider is if the IT supplier you’re considering is investing in its own team’s skills and knowledge. Does it keep up with the continuous acceleration of technology market trends or is it stagnating in the “tried and true” of what it has always done?

Research how well the supplier incorporates agile operating practices into its own approach to service. If you’re going to be working with this supplier intensely for months (if not years), you want to be certain you’re aligned in your vision of best outcomes. If you don’t feel like your strategic visions can be compatible, don’t bring that team on board. It’s hard to trust a supplier if you’re suspicious that its business model values profits over best outcomes for your organization.

2) Understand how much you value formal certifications (or a lack thereof)

Agile has become hot in the last few years, so it makes sense that there’s a whole new wave of suppliers “doing agile.” These companies may say they are well versed in agile principles, but how are they demonstrating that they have the capability? Traditional two-day agile certification courses are not an accurate reflection of a supplier’s skill and competency level. Demonstrable success is the better thing to look for. You want true practitioners.

For example, if an IT supplier has opted for a framework with specific certification instead of seeing how agile principles apply might need to be adapted for complex businesses to helpthe end-to-end flow of value, then it’s likely a bad fit for a large organization with multiple divisions without further review of how well the practitioners deliver the work. While you may not need to see a specific certification for experience with large companies, you would be well served by gaining a clear understanding of what organizations the supplier has worked with in the past. If their previous clients are nowhere near the scope or scale of your operations, no certification is going to make up for a lack of experience.

3) Be able to identify any red flags that indicate your IT supplier is misaligned with your goals

Sometimes red flags can be difficult to see in the midst of an all-encompassing project. Three guiding principles that we tend to use to assess are based on the outcomes of Value, Flow and Quality.

  1. Are they delivering value early and often?
  2. Is the end-to-end flow optimized (measured and monitored) and improving for faster delivery?
  3. Are we discovering quality through fast feedback? When is the soonest we know that the solution we are developing works for the users or customers? And, when will we have proven how we well the solution has been built?

Allow yourself the space to look at your supplier objectively and consider if it’s seriously looking at how agile can be applied or merely doing what’s always been done. If the supplier isn’t focused on how the delivery model will help deliver an improvement in the end customer’s experience and is just trying to sell you on what it has achieved in the past, that’s a major red flag.

Finding the right IT supplier is critical to any agile operating model implementation. Following the above steps will help to ensure your organization selects a supplier that aligns with your goals.

For more information on finding and working with agile IT suppliers, check out this thought paper on Sourcing IT for Agile.