Successful collaboration with suppliers

Successful collaboration with supplier on projects is often critical for the successful realisation of these projects. If deliverables are provided too late or at an inadequate level of quality, the performance of a supplier has a direct influence on the project team’s success. As a project manager, the challenge is to define common goals with suppliers, integrate them seamlessly into the project team and establish a collaboration approach that enables early action before problems arise.

The influence of a project manager is limited to the supplier’s priorities and resources. It is important to set guidelines for successful collaboration before the project starts. Let’s assume that we are a project manager and we are responsible for the development of a total new electric pump. The new development surpasses by far our competitive solutions as it is super light and much more efficient. An important aspect of the pump is the electrical control system, which our company does not provide. Therefore we cooperate with a supplier who can develop and produce the control system. The timeline is very tight as we want to be on the market as early as possible with our innovation.

Defining common goals

It is important to establish a trusting partnership when formulating the contract and the purchase order. If the focus is on safeguarding and contractual penalties, the fate of the project is already sealed. It is better to focus on common goals and, where possible, to create a common system of incentives for the supplier and us. This could include defining a common profit margin if product development is completed on time and within budget.

When it comes to the timeline, it is helpful to plan and document important “quality gates” — that is, time periods in which certain milestones are fulfilled. In our example a quality gates could be the completion of the design and the prototype.

Getting started right — kick-off and planning workshop

Once the order has been placed and the project has started, it is important to get the supplier on the right track. A planning workshop can be very helpful in this regard. The goal is to provide up-to-date information on the project scope and to talk openly about stumbling blocks, especially those pointed out by the supplier. Create a common project plan, define dependencies, set up a plan for regular communication and define how progress tracking and feedback should be carried out. More information on holding a planning workshop can be found here.

Transparent project planning

It is often the case that multiple project plans are created: a project plan for the customer, a project plan for the project team and, where necessary, a third project plan for the supplier. If we want to receive honest feedback on the supplier’s progress, you need to lead by example and make your own project plan transparent.

In our example we would share our project plan for the electrical pump with our supplier. A way to avoid unnecessary manual work, a project management software such as RPLAN Connect is ideal, which allows project plans to be shared easily and securely across company boundaries. Then the supplier has the option to link his project plans directly to the shared plan. All changes are tracked and immediately visible, without the hassle of having to update project plans and send them out by mail.

Regular tracking of progress

Once the project has started, regular communication is vital. As project managers, we have to anticipate early on whether problems will arise. Only then we have the opportunity to act (pro-) actively instead of just reacting to problems. In this regard, it has proven to be very helpful when a supplier updates his project plan regularly, provides information on the estimated remaining run time of tasks. As mentioned above, RPLAN Connect supports you with automatically updates about changes. it is possible to carry out these tasks in a completely automated fashion using .

If quality gates have been established, they can be used to review the progress, which is enormously useful from an external perspective. In our example, we may have the phase design with the following 3 tasks:

  1. 3D model is created.
  2. Parts list is created.
  3. Draft of the risk analysis is created.

Now our supplier reports back, he still needs 5 days for the completion. If none of the three tasks have been completed yet, we can easily question whether the 5 days are actually still enough. It becomes transparent what the actual status is.

As soon as we have established these activities and the tracking is running, we have established the foundation for a successful cooperation. We have taken a major step forward in launching our innovative pump on time.

What is your experience in getting suppliers involved in your project? Which building blocks do you use to ensure successful collaboration?