Here's the advice I gave him:
Get the vendor relationship off to a healthy start:
- Make sure there's an open, honest and safe channel for the vendor to communicate with you.
- Be as specific as possible with what you require from them. Try and be results focused and not activity focused. Here's a great article by Marc McDonald on the merits of results versus activity management.
- Urge vendors to give commitments that you can rely on and not commitments that you may want to hear.
- As a rule of thumb question the assumptions behind an estimate and not the estimate itself. This way your vendor is encouraged to use their expertise while protecting their self esteem (improves their perception of safety).
- Try and use the language of 'confidence' when considering estimates. For example, "The vendor is very confident in a 5 day delivery" or "The vendor is not very confident in a 5 day delivery due to an issue with XYZ". This way you're less likely to set unrealistic expectations with stakeholders.
- Ask your vendors to escalate potential issues early and often... better to handle things early & cheap than late & expensive. (See my previous blog article on this)
- Work hard to empower your vendor... especially since their performance has direct impact on your reputation. In other words, your reputation will very likely take a knock if they flounder.
- Prioritise the deliverables you're expecting as much as possible. Be clear about Must Haves.
- Compromise on Scope not Quality where possible. Don't make them deliver things if it can't be done properly. For example if you're time pressured, negotiate with scope.
Integrating vendor deliverables with your SCRUM project:
- Create a user story card for their deliverable and place it in the product backlog.
- When the iteration arrives be sure to schedule integration and testing tasks in the sprint backlog to ensure the vendor deliverables are truly DONE by the end of the iteration.
- For planning poker, Limit the task estimates to just those your team will need to carry out. I.e. exclude any work your vendor will do as this will distort your view of velocity (... thanks Vasco)
- Invite your vendor along to attend the sprint planning meeting for the relevant iteration. A public commitment to the team to meet a deadline is always more powerful than a contract ;-)
- Be sure to regularly ask vendors how they are tracking and to confirm their delivery estimates (weekly should be ok).
- If there are dependancies on the vendor's work be sure to assess the impact of delays. Communicate the potential impacts to stakeholders early.
- The vendor should also attend the sprint review to see how their deliverable has been integrated and to clarify anything should the need arise.
- It's also ideal to have your vendors attend the relevant sprint retrospective to get their input.