Vanit Gupta
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Today’s fast-evolving technology space forces product companies to be the “First in the market” if they want to survive and remain profitable. This in turn exerts immense pressure on the software development groups to be as quick as possible. Along with cost benefits, functional area complexities and expertise, this drives a number of software companies to take “buy” rather than “make” decisions about functionalities in their overall products.

This buy decision is taken in tandem with phases of evaluation, selection and contract with vendors providing particular functionalities. It’s not necessary that vendors are always external to a company. Many product companies, in fact, have a culture of creating in-house functionality teams. Hence there arises a need for inter team vendor-customer relationships within a company.

There are certain operational challenges imposed by having vendors on a software product. Of course companies have contracts to circumvent known problems but such contracts cannot take care of every possible anomaly. Characteristic challenges faced by vendor management team can be grouped in two major categories

Defect Tracking: When a defect is found in a vendor software, how do we fix it, and what should be the timeline for doing so? How do we report the problem to them? Where to get support for debugging problems related to the vendor software? These are some of the questions that face the company. Add to that the possibility wherein the vendor functionality and product functionality are interdependent, the scene becomes really muddled as to who fixes the bugs, and how.

Keeping pace with new technology: Suppose we want some new features/enhancements to enrich our product. The question that arises then is can the vendor functionality teams do it? If so, under what time frame? Moreover, in such a case, how do we make sure this does not break old functionalities?

The vendor management team has its scope across the whole product life cycle and in it lies its unique challenges. The team works towards directing vendor efforts and deliveries in best interest of product.

It’s very important to keep the vendors in sync with the product team. In this regard, understanding common tools baseline process for defect tracking, on the part of the vendor management team goes a long way.

The team needs to figure out what information needs to be supplied and how, which company policies affect the process and what data can be shared with vendor.

Defect tracking can be done through simple email exchanges, or through dedicated defect tracking systems, depending on project needs and common database/tools available. I have spent hours updating our defect tracking system with vendor updates, since the vendors themselves do not have access to it.

Enhancements can be even trickier since they require negotiations in advance and have to be carefully planned as per the product enhancement planning. Vendors may have staffing or technical complexity concerns for enhancements. Who is going to test the reliability of new enhancement is another area of concern which needs planning and mutual understanding.

Another challenge faced by vendor management team is dealing with virtual teams and masked information. Regular meetings/updates from vendors help manage and mitigate risks posed by unknown and late deliveries. Sharing project priorities with vendors help in making them understand what is important for the company.

The company’s control on product development is inversely proportional to number of vendors on project. Too many vendors on a project are certainly not desirable. Having vendors on a software project is beneficial when they are carefully monitored and managed.

he author is senior software engineer in vendor management team at Motorola. He can be reached at vanitgupta@motorola.com
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