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Work with the vendor

It is common for partners to not have the capacity to support products with in-house employees or contractors. In that case they either have an existing agreement with a vendor to build and support their products or will need to seek one. In some cases, these vendor relationships have lasted for years or even decades and with them practices and processes both good and bad. Your role is not to manage the relationship between the partner and the vendor, this is illegal AND not sustainable. As you advise the partner on product leadership, your role is to help build trust and good working practices between the parties as they oversee and manage the vendor’s work.

Considerations: What it looks like when this is done well

  • Each team member has a clear understanding of responsibilities and their own agency to make changes or communicate needs.

  • The product owner is actively engaging the vendor and taking ownership of product decisions

  • The vendor is actively participating in or referencing user research and usability testing in order to inform the execution.

  • The vendor is able to share unfinished work and get useful feedback.

  • The vendor is able to share when something is challenging or won’t be completed on the estimated timeline and won’t get punished for it.

  • The vendor is producing good work (producing value) on a regular basis, and it’s being reviewed by the partner.

  • The product is not overly accumulating technical debt (e.g., the team is not regularly forgoing automated tests for the sake of new features).

Activities: How to get there

If 18F is brought in to help a partner that has an existing relationship with a vendor, you do not have the authority to advise the vendor directly on their work or even meet with them directly without permission from the Contracting Officer Representative (COR). Your job is to advise and counsel the partner without alienating the vendor.

  • Understand the current state of the relationship by speaking with the COR, PO and partner leadership, and, if the COR will allow it, the vendor.

  • Consider facilitating a retro on what’s working and what’s not working between the partner and the vendor.

  • Review and consider updating the Quality Assurance Surveillance Plan (QASP) to include healthy and sustainable practices included in the agreement with the COR, PO, and the vendor.

  • Develop a charter together, considering agile methods and ceremonies, in order to increase open dialogue and accountability.

  • Document delivery and advise the PO on assessing if the QASP criteria is being met regularly, or if the vendor is progressing or regressing.

  • Facilitate conversations around planning and delivery between the partner and vendor.

Incorporation: What to do next

  • Assess the partner and vendor’s progress towards open dialogue and mutual trust.

  • With adequate and regular documentation on tactical delivery, identify areas for the vendor to improve on for the next delivery.

  • With adequate and regular documentation on general performance, discuss with partner leadership and the COR if further adjustments need to be made.

Resources

  • Vendor onboarding [1]: An exercise to identify what information needs to be shared and with whom to successfully onboard a vendor.

  • Vendor onboarding [2]: An exercise to collect feedback about what’s going well and what questions remain as a project goes from preparing a procurement to onboarding a vendor to disengaging with 18F.

  • 18F QASP Template: 18F’s foundational criteria for monitoring the quality of a vendor’s deliverables and performance.

  • QASP Example [1]: QASP criteria from 18F’s de-risking guide.

  • Acquistions toolkit: Guidance and templates on acquisitions, contracting, and procurement.

  • Post-award management: Common best practices and risks that exist around post-award management and vendor relationships.

18F Product Guide

An official website of the GSA’s Technology Transformation Services

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