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Project Managers and Vendors: Creating a Successful Partnership – Part VIII (#8 in the series Project Managers and Vendors: Creating a Successful Partnership)
By Linda Miller of Traveling Coaches, Inc.

Project management offices (PMOs) and project managers (PMs) are a necessity in today’s law firms, to ensure that IT projects stay on track. Anyone acting as a PM on a project requiring multiple outside vendors knows that if not managed properly, chaos can reign. Working with your own staff on a project can usually be orchestrated with ease, but throw in a vendor or two (or more) and the project can quickly get out of hand. Creating a successful partnership between vendors and your own project team is a necessity to ensure project success.

Schedule Project Financial Reviews

Develop a financial review meeting schedule with the vendor. The project manager should require the vendor to submit timely information including budgeted versus actual hours used to date and hours (costs) remaining on the project. This information is necessary to know if the project is going to stay within budget and allows the PM to be proactive and make necessary changes as the project progresses.

Communicate Difficult Issues

Although a team should strive to resolve as many issues and conflicts internally as possible, some issues can be serious enough to need attention from people outside the team, including upper management. Typical situations requiring escalation include: conflicting resource demands threatening project staffing; group dependencies not being met; project scope disagreements; and any issues with functionality of the project’s deliverables, especially as the project nears completion. Defining escalation procedures early on helps everyone know how large issues will be resolved and what role they will be required to play. This process should be defined in the communication plan and explained in the kickoff meeting.

It is sometimes difficult for IT management to hear feedback from a vendor that prior IT decisions could be impeding the technology they put in place, or perhaps the skill set of their staff is not a strong resource on the project. However, the vendor is an extension of the firm’s IT staff during a project and their expertise and opinions should be heard and respected. Open discussions should be allowed and defined as acceptable at the beginning of the project. These discussions require some level of diplomacy and thick skin. Both parties, firm and vendor, should be open to constructive criticism delivered in a professional manner to ensure the success of the project. Learn to work with difficult personalities and realize that the firm and vendor should be striving for the same goal, a successful project.

The firm’s PM is ultimately held responsible for the project’s success or failure. The project team should assist the PM in achieving success, keeping their eyes and ears open and being respectful to feedback from peers and vendors. The PM knows the firm’s temperament and the level of patience, and he/she knows best how the firm will respond. The PM should listen openly for resolutions that will work in the environment.

This article was first published in ILTA’s July, 2007 white paper titled “Project Management — Broadening Your Scope” and is reprinted here with permission. For more information about ILTA, visit their website at http://www.iltanet.org.

Linda Miller is co-owner and principal of Traveling Coaches, Inc., leading the company’s team of project managers, application specialists and document management engineers. Linda has extensive experience leading projects with law firms and consulting law firms on project management. Since 1995, Linda has served as the company’s technology partner managing all technical and project management operations. Linda is a dynamic presenter and implementer of project management, adult learning theories (training techniques) and IT management level courses. Linda holds many technical certifications in the legal industry enhancing her valuable experience as a consultant. Linda can be reached at lmiller@travelingcoaches.com.

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