Despite quantum improvements to outsourcing deals and governance over the past 10 to 15 years, when it comes to achieving outsourcing excellence there's still plenty of opportunity. Part of the challenge is that once the decision is made to outsource or change providers, the clock starts ticking....fast. It takes real discipline to know when to slow down and what to do that will ultimately speed up the journey to outsourcing excellence.
Empower the Project Team
There is often a big gulf between senior decision makers on the Project Steering Committee and the team leading the outsourcing process. Senior people determine their business objectives and set strategic direction but have limited knowledge about how service providers deliver services. The outsourcing project team works very hard to deliver what they believe senior executives want. The team may feel reluctant to propose alternatives to the Project Steering Committee if the alternatives aren't exactly what senior management asked for. As a result, in their quest to deliver what the Project Steering Committee asked for, they may require customized processes that disregard the service provider's proven processes. The project timeline stretches out while the service provider tries to develop customized processes or the project team spends unrecoverable time backtracking to redesign parts of the solution.
The best way to avoid this totally unnecessary slow down is to spend time up front establishing ground rules for the Steering Committee, project team and the service provider, building trust and empowering the team. Good leaders delegate real authority, actively listen and build trust. Senior leaders need to be aware of their positional power and ask the right questions, and the outsourcing team and the service provider need to feel comfortable raising issues and proposing solutions.
Do your Homework
The decisions made when establishing an outsourcing relationship have a long-term impact on your company. Service delivery is the service provider's core competence; time and again I've seen the buyer succumb to the temptation of letting a service provider guide their decisions regarding in-scope services and how those services will be delivered. This is particularly true when there is a pre-existing relationship or when the business development lead has exceptional relationship-building skills. This approach often seems like a great time saver because the service provider appears to have all the answers. When entering into any type of outsourcing relationship -- large or small -- it's always a case of pay me now or pay me later.
The time you invest in external market research, emerging competitors and solutions, site visits to service providers' customers and developing exit scenarios is time well spent. Internally, it will save you time and money if you invest in a detailed current state assessment, which includes baseline costs, systems and process documentation, service standards and performance data, employee profiles and so on. Investing in these two steps allows you to develop a fact-based point of view in the context of your organization. You will make better long-term decisions about which service provider is the best fit, which of the service provider's capabilities and services you will evaluate, and which solution will help you achieve your goals. Your investment in market research and competitive intelligence ensures that your expectations and the provider's ability to deliver are well aligned. In the long run, you'll have realistic expectations and save both time and money. Travelling in a straight line is always the shortest route.
Invest in Governance
Transition and change management plans invariably lay out detailed plans and controls for orderly transition to new technology, processes and workflow. They include detailed internal communication strategies and user training. Intense discussions take place and energy is invested in developing detailed employee retention agreements and severance packages, followed by timed communications about job elimination. Typically, limited resources are invested in developing good governance and management practices and protocols. Sometimes this important work isn't started until transition is underway.
While you can get by with weak governance processes, you are denying your organization and your service provider feedback. This minimizes the likelihood that you will ever reach high levels of performance and systematically engage in continuous improvement activities with your provider. The provider will invest their time and energy in those clients that have good practices and allow them to thrive and grow.
In the absence of thoughtful governance, you're placing a whole lot of faith in the service provider to meet your sometimes changeable expectations. The only predictable route to excellence is investing in governance - the controls, tools, competencies and communication processes necessary for proficient supplier management and a healthy relationship with your service provider.
It may seem counter intuitive that you can shorten the timeline to achieving your outsourcing goals by spending more time in three key areas. Empowered project teams craft better solutions. Informed leaders make better decisions. And comprehensive governance programs ensure you and your service provider stay focused on all the right things.
Linda Tuck Chapman is a seasoned Outsourcing Advisor and Governance expert. You can reach Linda at (416) 452-4635, [email protected] or visit ONTALA Performance Solutions at www.ONTALA.com