The following post is courtesy of Diane Harrison who is principal and owner of Panegyric Marketing, a strategic marketing communications firm founded in 2002 specializing in alternative assets.
The practice of collaborating with third-party experts for specific projects or services has become a popular way to increase functionality, efficiency, and specialized skill sets for managers both emerging and established in the alternative space. Whether it’s a function of budget or need to comply with regulatory requirements, often the best solution to obtain quality results is to seek an outside partner with the ability to deliver the best results for what is desired.
But selecting the right outsource option can be a project within itself. Here are a few guidelines to increase the likelihood of getting the match right the first time and hopefully avoiding a misstep which wastes both time and money,
- STATE YOUR GOALS CANDIDLY.
Defining clearly what it is you need is the first step in determining what resources are required to fulfill the objective. If you are looking to sign on a recurring outsource partner for technical or some form of administrative support, that is typically easy to create a services required checklist with which to screen outsource partners.
But if you have a specific project that you want to have tackled, taking time up front to define the goals, deliverables, and timelines will help assist in the evaluation and ultimate selection of the best partner fit for success.
2. PRESENT YOUR DESIRED TIMELINE BUT ASK FOR VALIDATION THAT IT IS REASONABLE.
Nothing is more frustrating than to get knee-deep into a project that has gone too far to abandon, but is clearly going to take far longer than you thought or than you may be able to accommodate, Sometimes the fault is that of the outsource partner, who is too eager to sign up the project but then finds themselves unable to complete the stages of the project on schedule.
Oftentimes though, the client has unreasonable expectations for how long something will actually take, as the work itself is undertaken outside of the business resources, and therefore out of control of the client’s management or full understanding of what it takes to fulfill. Having the timeline conversation BEFORE the project agreement is reached can help avoid this misunderstanding.
Recently, I participated in a potential project discussion with a business owner who was very clear in their desire to have what was being asked for to be done in a specific time frame, and stated their desire several times during the hour-long conference call. While I appreciated their candor and obvious priority for getting the work done quickly, having worked such projects before many times in the past, I knew that the actual time frame was 3 times longer than the client wanted, and so wasn’t a fit for the resources available in our solution. Taking the hour to discuss the potential partnering and ultimately passing on bidding the work, while disappointing for the client, was the best outcome to avoid a failure for both parties halfway into the work itself.
3. HAVE A BUDGET IN MIND BUT GET SEVERAL QUOTES.
It’s totally okay to have a certain budget which must be adhered to, but until you actually bid out the scope and deliverables to several outsource candidates, you are shooting blind on actual costs for outsourcing, Your expectations may be way off base if you’ve never outsourced such work before, or if it’s been several years since you have done so.
Some firms will have more flexibility than others to accommodate your needs, while others will have multiple projects going and be less hungry for discounting their typical fees. If you find a partner that you’d like to work with but the budget isn’t quite a fit, try to negotiate breaking the project into stages to spread the work out over a longer time frame, or perhaps ask the outsource firm to suggest ways to reduce the scope to fit within your stated budget allotment.
4. PRIORITIZE YOUR OUTSOURCE NEEDS―EXPERTISE? SPEED? PRICE?
If you can’t have all 3, what is most important to you to ensure the best outcome? Again, this goes back to the earlier points about knowing what you really need and being candid up front about the drivers for success for you. It’s far better that both parties evaluate the project from the same criteria before an agreement is struck so that expectations are clearly understood from Day 1.
Returning to the example of the potential client call I recently had, besides the timeline expectation being nonnegotiable, this particular request included a comprehensive platform development along the lines of what the top management consulting companies produce but still within the abbreviated timeline. The project wasn’t a fit from the dual standpoints of both time and resources required to produce such a platform for a niche outsource provider with limited manpower and other client demands, so passing on bidding it was the only viable option,
4. DESIGNATE A POINT PERSON ON YOUR TEAM TO CORRAL FEEDBACK AND KEEP THE PROJECT ON TRACK.
Once you’ve found the right partner with whom to outsource and the goals and expectations are clearly defined and understood, the next critical step for success is identifying a gatekeeper within your firm who will be the central conduit for relationship management with the outsource firm.
This doesn’t mean that there won’t perhaps be multiple individuals who will interact with the outsource firm on occasion and where relevant to the project for tasks required, but the gatekeeper will be responsible for troubleshooting, smoothing delays, keeping on track or course correcting changes to the project and, in general, for managing the human resource role bridging the two firms.
If you take the time up front to follow these few steps, the success rate for a healthy and productive outsource relationship will be increased substantially, A good outsource partner will help you navigate all of these steps and suggest them if you don’t bring them up first, so use these guidelines to help screen your potential partners right from the outset.