Survival List to Vendor Selection on Agile Projects



How to choose Vendor?

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  • Vendor Management System (VMS) – The easiest thing could be to refer to and pick from VMS, as long as a vendor card-rate is in a ballpark of what you wish to pay. But please, don’t do that. Do not let costs become the most important determining factor in your selection.  There is a chance that a vendor you are about to choose ended up in VMS based on old selection criterion, other than the ones that you might be looking for, for agile work.  Do not automatically assume that old relationships will seamlessly work under new conditions, operating in new ways.
  • Case Studies / Use Cases / References – These, could be great ways to understand if a vendor is really capable of doing work they were tasked to do. As a  client be always skeptical about heavy, well-formatted power point decks, with lots of fine-print, if they are used by a vendor during initial presentations.  Ask for practical demonstrations, working solutions and engage a vendor in extensive Q&A – and please make sure that real hands-on doers present/answer, NOT engagement/sales managers that are specifically trained to make a great first impression.  Whenever possible, ask for references from other clients of the same vendor, who to provide feedback about similar work that was performed for them.
  • Interviewing Vendor workers – Make sure that you interview every person from the vendor-side, who will be involved in performing work. Be on a lookout for workers that were just hired by a vendor or swapped (for other workers) last minute, just before work commenced, or were being asked to split their time with other projects/clients.
How to structure your ongoing relationship with Vendor?
  • SOW – Regardless of SOW type (e.g. Design/Detail, T&M, Performance Based) try avoiding ‘fixed everything’ (time, scope, budget) agreements. When all three corner of the ‘management triangle’ get locked, work becomes very non-adaptive/non-agile/rigid. It will increase risk aversion and decease interest to experiment and innovate.  Try building in some contingencies and flexibility into one of the three above variables.  Don’t fix-plan work by using waterfall tooling (project plans, Gantt charts, etc.)
  • Location of Vendor people – Ideally, bring vendor workers on-site (client) and fully integrate them (physical space, daily interaction) with your internal workers. Once engaging vendor people, don’t treat them as ‘second-class citizens’. Engage them in team-bonding and other social activities to minimize polarization and other adverse behaviors that are not supportive of agile teams. If geographic distribution is inevitable, at least, try to engage with a vendor in the same time zone.
  • Communication with Vendor people – Communicate directly with doers, not with their line/engagement managers or alike proxies/conduits. Make sure that intra-team (e.g. Scrum, Kanban) relationships between vendor people and client people prevail over reporting relationships on a vendor side.
  • Investing in Vendor learning – Invest in education and training of vendor people if you think this will strengthen your relationship and there will be a notable ROI, while they work for you (client). Be also wise about who you invest into and to what extent. Make sure you don’t (over)invest in what a vendor was expected to know in the first place.
  • Multiple Vendor Involvement – Be on a look out for any signs of potential rivalry or competition between multiple, concurrently engaged, vendors – this will jeopardize a healthy working environment.  Avoid assigning activities to different vendors in ways that increase hand-overs and lead to additional contractual relationships and sequential work (e.g. vendor A – design/development, vendor B  – architecture, vendor C – testing).
How to track progress of your relationship with Vendor?
  • Progress Tracking & Communication media – Select a single “source of truth” to capture, track and visualize work by agile teams. If a physical board is not sufficient, leverage an electronic tool but make sure that there are no multiple versions information (metrics, reporting, statuses, RAGs etc). Try basing all communications to senior leadership and stakeholders on raw metrics and empirical data that comes directly from teams, without passing through multiple layers of massaging and refinement. Avoid having a vendor using one set of work management tools and a you (client) – another set.
How to position Product Ownership in fully outsourced (Vendor) solutions?
Client-Vendor interaction – Make sure that product ownership represents you (client), clearly and unambiguously.  A product owner should be positioned organizationally in a way that he/she faces externally, and communicates with/sets priorities to a doers/team members (vendor) directly (not through engagement managers, BAs or other translation layers), as well as internally – by closely interacting with SMEs, stakeholders and other internal customers, with the latter providing clarifications but not setting priorities.

Mentor-Guided LeSS Case Study Writing Experience Report




This writing is about mentor-assisted LeSS adoption case study, written by Certified LeSS Trainer-Candidate – Gene G [MENTEE]: Certified Enterprise & Team Coach (CEC/CTC), Certified LeSS-Friendly Scrum Trainer (LFST) / LeSS-Trainer Candidate, Certified in Agile Leadership (CAL) | Certified in Scrum @Scale (CS@S) and assisted throughout by Jurgen D. S. [MENTOR]: Certified LeSS Trainer, Licensed Management 3.0 Trainer, Innovation Games Qualified Instructor, Black Belt Collaboration Architect

Purpose of a case study:

The purpose of writing a case study was to re-live the experience of Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) adoption, by going back in time and memory to everything that was done by me – the agile coach, trainer and organizational design consultant at a large financial institution.  This engagement was done in conjunction/partnership with my former trusted colleague Stuart P. (also, an experienced agile and software engineering coach).   Writing this case study gave me a great opportunity to self-reflect (retrospect) and think about what I could have done differently back then, if I had to go through adoption again.  The name of the organization, as well as names of people, products, projects, applications, components, etc. that were involved in the study are intentionally withheld, for confidentiality and privacy protection reasons.Nevertheless, hopefully the case study, when published on less.works will serve as a guideline to others, in their attempts to experiment with LeSS adoptions in their respective organizations.  It is worth nothing that many existing LeSS case studies on less.works had provided my former colleague and me with some great references when we worked on our artifact piece.


More About my Mentor:

My mentor, also one of not too many Certified LeSS trainers, was very knowledgeable about LeSS (as trainer, coach and practitioner) and very supportive in my case study work.  Him and I have met more than once in real life, at various agile- and LeSS-related public events (conferences, retreats), and this allowed for some of in-personal mentoring sessions.  Visual technology took care of the rest and made our remote sessions also effective (Note: I am based in the US, he is based in Europe)

Dynamics of Case Study writing:

The process had been very iterative all along.  My mentor and I used google docs, as a communication media and it allowed us to work incrementally and transparently with one another: typically, I would capture my thoughts directly in the google document, iterate multiple times through them and then, once feeling comfortable enough, would share them with the mentor, asking for his feedback. The mentor would provide feedback, ask questions and suggest clarifications.  My former colleague and the peer-coach, who also had full access to the case study, would attend to it at any point in time, leave his comments, provide clarifications and add his details to mine.  Notably, my former colleague-coach has helped me significantly, by recalling facts, decisions, ideas, events that we lived through together (LeSS adoption took place a few years before the case study was incepted).  Specifically, my former colleague also helped me significantly in those areas of the case study that talked about technology: architecture, design, and development.  In all fairness, this was ‘our’ case study, not just ‘mine’.
Regularly, at least once a month, when meeting with my mentor, I would receive feedback on those parts of the case study that required further refinement and re-work.  Many times, my mentor would ask me questions that initially seemed to be intentionally tricky or even irrelevant.  But I always had to give my mentor the benefit of the doubt that he, being a deep system thinking just like me, tried to set me up to think deeper, broader and most systemically into the matter, helping me to discover better ways to formulate my thoughts.   Specifically, many of his questions made me go backwards from many of the LeSS experiments that were leveraged during the case study, to underlining LeSS principles – and making a connection.

From time to time, my mentor would also share his own experiences and give his own perspective like mine, or related situations.  This made our mentoring more interactive, engaging and fulfilling.


How did I decide on the scope of my case study?

One of the most important mentoring ‘aha moments’ for me was the decision on how many LeSS experiments that were actually used during LeSS adoption did I really want to describe in detail, as a part of my case study.Here, one of LeSS adoption concepts came to rescue: Deep & Narrow is better than Broad & Shallow.  I consulted with my former colleague-coach on how many of our LeSS experiments and experiences do we really want to discuss and how deep.  We agreed on the shorter list of experiments that represented the crust of our work and could be aligned with logical and chronological sequence of events, as we remembered them.  We made our selection described experiments, based on what we felt was most important during the adoption, relevant to the case study and memorable to us, as coaches.  I consulted with my mentor on the final list and the overall approach and based on his recommendations, proceeded with deeper dives into the case study.


A picture is worth a thousand of words.

During one of the many case study reviews with my mentor, it became obvious that long paragraphs and dry text would make many readers bored.  This is when I have decided to spice up the case study with graphic illustrations and other visual artifacts (e.g. causal loop diagrams, tabular data).  I had to make a dedicated iteration throughout the whole case study and introduce graphics, were they seemed most appropriate.  Ultimately, this made the case study more readable and informative.

Overall experience.

My overall experience of writing the case study was amazing.  It took me through the process of additional deep re-learning and self-discovery.  It made me reassess my past decisions, now seeing them through the prism of additional experience acquired during the last three years of professional work.