Managing Transitions Between Outsourcing Vendors

With apologies to Sir Walter Scott: Oh, what a tangled contract we write, when first we practice to outsource. Having managed outsourcing projects on behalf of both the customer and the third-party administrator, and managed transitions from one outsourcing firm to another on behalf of several clients, I have a lot of anecdotal evidence that outsourcing generally works best on a spreadsheet—in practice, results tend to be rather variable. But because most business decisions are driven by spreadsheets, businesses keep outsourcing.

That’s not to say that migrating to a better outsourcing relationship isn’t a net positive—only that changing who does what across organizational boundaries is stressful for all concerned, and that increased stress level and instability tends to last longer than most decision-makers expect. And when transitioning from one third party to another, you get something like a long, drawn-out divorce where the spurned spouse is required to help tailor her wardrobe to the mistress, who arrives with an extensive list of demands.

Transition Projects and VUCA

VUCA is an acronym originally coined by the US Army War College to describe a state of increased volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Transition projects have it in spades:

  • Volatility: Disrupting the current state produces lots of process change points, and most are not under the control of the client.
  • Uncertainty: There are a lot of opportunities for all parties to be surprised, from the customer decision-makers to the employees of the departing administrator. Do not underestimate the emotional impact of being asked to help a stranger take over your job—some folks resign the same day they get the news.
  • Complexity: Since the only contracts are between the customer and each of the two rival firms, the customer must act as intermediary in all things. Issue management quickly becomes a significant challenge, since each party wants to avoid blame. Cause and effect can become blurred, and even disconnected.
  • Ambiguity: There is so much potential for miscommunication and differences in terminology that even simple discussions require extreme care. Insist on a common set of terms and acronyms and what they mean, or you’ll be discovering gaps nearly every day.

Over the years, I’ve adopted a few techniques for facilitating projects built on a team of rivals, and I’ll share a few of them here.

The Central Clearing House

While every firm has a preferred collaboration and file sharing tool, it is vital for the common client to provide the tools for secure file sharing and provide equal access to both incumbent and replacement. The client must manage the content and organization, no matter how eloquently the replacement firm pitches their approach. All fingers should point to the client, or the potential for blamestorming becomes unmanageable.

The Cheshire Cat

Since the rivals have no contractual relationship, the client (or their representative) must chair every joint meeting. Over time, the individuals on each side develop relationships with their counterparts, and collaboration becomes natural. As this happens, the potential for emotional conflict gradually diminishes, and the client can gradually be less visible, although still present and ready to step in.

The Captain’s Table

Dave GordonOnce the transition is under way, the project leaders for all three organizations need to collaborate on resolving issues, following up on requests, and otherwise executing on their joint plan. This joint meeting should be scheduled as often as necessary, whether weekly or daily, and chaired by the client’s project manager. Avoid having more than one person from each organization, so internal politics don’t bleed over into the project.

An experienced project manager is used to leveraging influence in the absence of direct authority. What most of us are not used to is influencing people who are about to lose their jobs, when we want them to work with their replacements. It isn’t just about the need for emotional intelligence, but the need to preserve the dignity of the employees of the departing incumbent. I’ve seen some folks take the opportunity to move on to much better circumstances, and I’ve seen some fall into deep depression. You might not get the chance to influence that outcome, but be sensitive to the fact that these people are not just numbers on a spreadsheet.

New PM Articles for the Week of February 24 – March 1

New project management articles published on the web during the week of February 24 – March 1. And this week’s video: Mike Clayton suggests a routine to deal with the feeling of being overwhelmed by pruning and prioritizing your to-do list, and then working it aggressively. 9 minutes, safe for work.

Ethics, Business Acumen and Strategy

  • Pierre Haren and David Simchi-Levi expect that the full impact of COVID-19 on the global supply chain will hit us in mid-March and could continue for months. 4 minutes to read.
  • Edd Gent reports that tech manufacturing depends on 23 rare minerals that have significant supply chain risk. The analysis is as interesting as the finding. 3 minutes to read.
  • David Rotman reports that Moore’s Law is dead (sort of) and explains what that will mean for the trajectory of technology. 9 minutes to read.

Managing Projects

  • Elizabeth Harrin shares ten tips for preparing meeting minutes. You can delegate notetaking but take responsibility for preparing the minutes! 6 minutes to read.
  • Carsten Lund Pedersen and Thomas Ritter suggest a framework for predicting the chances of success for your new Big Data project. 7 minutes to read.
  • Erik van Hurck shares three tips for working with Microsoft Planner. 5 minutes to read.
  • Kiron Bondale suggests an interesting technique for increasing alignment on delivery approaches: uncertainty poker. 3 minutes to read.
  • Glen Alleman posted a list of books and documents that should be of use to teams who are engineering complex systems. 3 minutes to read.
  • Johanna Rothman examines the merits of collecting labor hours expended for capitalizing projects. Abandon all expectation of accuracy and you’ll be fine. 5 minutes to read.

Managing Software Development

  • Stefan Wolpers curates his weekly list of Agile content, from liberating structures to measuring a complex reality to making decisions in complex situations. 7 outbound links, 4 minutes to read.
  • Andre Schweighofer tells how the Adidas tech team decided to stop estimating story points and found a more effective approach for the way they worked. 6 minutes to read.
  • Craig Brown talks about backlog bankruptcy—having so much on the backlog that you can never get down to zero. 2 minutes to read.
  • Nishi Grover Garg explains the tester’s notion of bug advocacy, and when to advocate. Think about encouraging your testers to be advocates. 3 minutes to read.
  • Tom Cagely interviews Todd Miller and Ryan Ripley on their new book, Fixing Your Scrum: Practical solutions to common Scrum problems. Podcast, 40 minutes, safe for work.
  • Robb Pieper discusses the pros and cons of having technical or business domain knowledge as a Scrum Master. Video, 2 minutes, safe for work.

Applied Leadership

  • Greg Satell focuses on the lessons learned about leading change in Lou Gerstner’s tenure as CEO of IBM. 5 minutes to read.
  • Karin Hurt coaches us on how to manage a strong, arrogant, slightly obnoxious high performer. 4 minutes to read.
  • Dmitriy Nizhebetskiy tells us how to introduce ourselves as the PM on a new project. Video, 13 minutes, safe for work.
  • Jamie Davidson suggests nine tips for developing great remote management skills. 5 minutes to read.
  • Art Petty sums up the way we assess effective leadership in others as the Four C’s. 4 minutes to read.

Cybersecurity and Data Protection

  • Eric Griffith dives into the FBI’s cybercrime statistics for insights into the what might be the biggest threats. 3 minutes to read.
  • Gilad David Maayan shares proven practices for responding to Big Data breaches. 5 minutes to read.
  • Joan Goodchild reports on the growing debate over whether foreign-made tech products can be made safe for use by the US government in critical infrastructure. Yes, they mean Huawei. 3 minutes to read.

Pot Pourri

  • Elizabeth Grace Saunders suggests self-care for working parents approaching burn-out. 6 minutes to read.
  • Leigh Espy lists seven reasons why networking is critical for a successful career. 4 minutes to read.

Enjoy!

New PM Articles for the Week of January 20 – 26

New project management articles published on the web during the week of January 20 – 26. And this week’s video: Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen explains disruptive innovation, as described in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma. Clay passed away this week, leaving a body of work that has influenced business decision makers all over the world for more than three decades. 8 minutes, safe for work.

Ethics, Business Acumen and Strategy

  • Briony Harris reports that the International Monetary Fund is becoming cautiously optimistic, predicting slower growth but a “sluggish” recovery in the global economy. 2 minutes to read.
  • Greg Satell compares the rise of China as an economic power in the last forty years with the earlier rise of Japan and the United States, pointing to some substantial differences. 6 minutes to read.
  • The Editors of the Harvard Business Review provide a short analysis of the work and impact of Clayton Christensen, with links to eleven of his seminal articles. 6 minutes to read.
  • Robert Jameson examines the impact of the iPad on the evolution of mobile technology products and strategies. 10 minutes to read.

Managing Projects

  • CommunicationElizabeth Harrin shares 15 actions and habits that will improve your project communication. 7 minutes to read.
  • Pat Weaver explains why the concept of project management processes is being dropped from both the ISO Standard and the forthcoming edition of the PMBOK. 6 minutes to read.
  • Praveen Malik does a deep dive on milestone reporting using Gantt charts in MS Project. 5 minutes to read.
  • Mike Clayton muses on a couple of paradoxes that illustrate why short-cuts aren’t usually a good way to resolve problems. Video, 7 minutes, safe for work.
  • John Goodpasture contemplates the factors that influence the quality of our predictions, with a little input from Nate Silver. 2 minutes to read.
  • Glen Alleman adds some commentary to an on-going LinkedIn exchange about risk management with links to a group of articles and other resources. 2 minutes to read.
  • Tom Cagely interviews Paul Gibbons on his new book, IMPACT: 21st Century Change Management. Podcast, 42 minutes, some PG-13 expressions.

Managing Software Development

  • Stefan Wolpers curates his weekly list of agile content, from agile coaching to swarming to backlog bankruptcy. 7 outbound links, 3 minutes to read.
  • Johanna Rothman started a series on defining a project in terms of its boundaries—features, defects, schedule, cost, people, and work environment. 5 minutes to read part one, 6 minutes for part 2, and 4 minutes for part 3 with a summary still to come.
  • Wolfgang Platz makes the case for risk coverage—weighting test cases based on business risk—as an improvement over percentage of test cases completed. 5 minutes to read.
  • Karolina Tóth interviews Camille Fournier, managing director at financial management firm Two Sigma, on keeping developers engaged. Podcast, 31 minutes, safe for work. Or read the transcript in 11 minutes.
  • Roland Flemm explains how to facilitate multi-team product backlog refinements. 7 minutes to read.

Applied Leadership

  • Renate Wagner reflects on the role and necessary mindset of leader in an age of tremendous upheaval. Like, right now. 4 minutes to read.
  • Marcus Blankenship interviews Michael Lopp on building trust and his new book, The Art of Leadership. Podcast, 44 minutes, safe for work.
  • Dan Rockwell says that fatigue and self-neglect should not be badges of honor. 2 minutes to read.

Cybersecurity and Data Protection

  • Shuba Kathikeyan argues that ethical hacking is changing the way we see security and information protection. 5 minutes to read.
  • Alois Zwinggi and colleagues identify the emerging cybersecurity trends for 2020. “Cyber strategy is business strategy” because the risks are increasing. 6 minutes to read.
  • Jennifer Zaino reports on data governance trends that will be more prominent in 2020. 6 minutes to read.

Pot Pourri

  • Leigh Espy explores seven ways to improve your active listening skills. 6 minutes to read.
  • Judaheet Das shares ten tips for improving your business writing skills. 7 minutes to read.
  • Dorie Clark advises us on prioritizing our goals and aligning them with the overall strategic vision of our organization. 5 minutes to read.

Enjoy!