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Interviewing the Vendor - Administration

As a project manager, your job is very similar to the team leader from one of your favorite spy caper movies: putting together a team that has all the skills to get the job done. You will need to deal with many issues that rarely come up in a spy movie, however, such as characters who dodge work and complain about the difficulty of the job. This article will help you deal with some of these problems. It is excerpted from the book IT Project Management: On Track from Start to Finish, Second Edition by Joseph Phillips (McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2004; ISBN: 0072232021).

  1. Organizing a Team Project
  2. Learning Is Hard Work
  3. Where Do You Live?
  4. How to Interview
  5. Phases of Team Development
  6. Use Experience
  7. Interviewing the Vendor
  8. After Hiring the Consultant
  11. Quiz Answers
By: McGraw-Hill/Osborne
Rating: starstarstarstarstar / 19
May 26, 2005

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Once you’ve narrowed your search to two or three vendors, it’s time to interview each one to see to whom the project will be awarded. In the interview process, which the vendor will probably consider a sales call, remind yourself that this is a first date—it’s a chance to find out more information about the vendor.

Document all parts of the meeting: How difficult was it to arrange a meeting time? How polite was the salesperson? Did the salesperson bring a technical consultant to the meeting? All of these little details will help you make an informed decision. In such meetings, pay attention to several things about vendors’ representatives:

  • Do they pay attention to details? Are they on time? Dressed professionally and appropriately for your business? Are their shoes shined and professional? How vendors pay attention to the details in their appearance and presentation to win your business will be an indicator of how they will treat you once they’ve won your business.

  • How organized are their materials? When a salesperson opens his briefcase, can he quickly locate sales materials? Are the brochures and materials well prepared and neat, and not wrinkled or dog-eared? Again, this shows attention to detail, something every project requires from the start.

  • What is their body language saying? Pay attention to how they are seated, where their hands are, and how animated their answers become. A salesperson should show genuine interest in your project and be excited to chat with you. If she seems bored now, she will likely be bored when you call to discuss concerns down the road.

  • What does your gut say? Gut instinct is not used enough. The meeting with the salesperson should leave you with a confident, informed feeling. If your gut tells you something is wrong, then chances are something is. If you’re not 100 percent certain, and you probably shouldn’t be after one meeting, do more research or ask for another meeting with the project integrators.

Looking for a STAR

When you are interviewing the potential integrators, you need to ask direct, hard- hitting questions to slice through their sales spiels and get to the heart of the project. One of the best interview techniques, especially when dealing with

Figure 6-9.  STAR is an interview methodology. 

potential integrators, is the STAR methodology. Figure 6-9 demonstrates that STAR means Situation, Task, Action, Result.

When you use the STAR method, you ask a situational question, such as “Can you tell me about a situation where you were implementing a technology for a customer and you went above and beyond the call of duty?”

The vendor should answer with a specific Situation, followed by the Task of the situation, the Action he took with the task, and then the Results. If the potential vendor doesn’t complete the STAR, add follow-up questions, such as “How did the situation end?” to allow the vendor to finish the STAR question.

This interview process is excellent, as it allows the project manager to discern fact from fiction based on the vendor’s response. Try it!

Know What You Want

When you procure materials or resources from vendors, know exactly what you want from the procurement process. In the Statement of Work (SOW), the seller fully describes the work to be completed and/or the product to be supplied. The SOW becomes part of the contract between the buyer and the seller. It is typically created as part of the procurement planning process, and allows the seller to determine if it can meet the written requirements of the SOW.

Particular industries have different assumptions about what constitutes a SOW. What one industry calls a SOW may be called a Statement of Objectives (SOO) in another. A SOO is a document describing a problem to be solved by the seller. Some specific terms the project manager should be familiar with are shown next.




From seller to buyer. Price is the determining factor in the decision-making process.


From seller to buyer. Price is the determining factor in the decision-making process.


From seller to buyer. Other factors—such as skill sets, reputation, or an idea for the project solution—may be determining factors in the decision-making process.

Invitation For Bid (IFB)

From buyer to seller. Requests the seller provide a price for the procured product or service.

Request For Quote (RFQ)

From buyer to seller. Requests the seller provide a price for the procured product or service.

Request For Proposal (RFP)

From buyer to seller. Requests the seller provide a proposal to complete the procured work or provide the procured product.

Cinching the Deal

When you’ve just about made your decision, it’s time to follow up with a phone call to a few references. Now most references that you’ll be given by the vendor will no doubt be excellent and prepped. Not that anything’s wrong with that; everyone wants to put her best foot forward. Ask the vendor what type of work was performed for the client and when the work was done.

If the work the vendor completed for the client is not directly associated with your project, ask if that vendor can provide you with another reference where similar work was done. In addition, the date of the work should be fairly recent, hopefully within the past six months.

Once you’ve called the references, reviewed your research, and have narrowed the field down to at least two integrators, ask for a quote in response to your Request For Proposal (RFP) by a specific date. Be firm about your deadline, but at least a week from the request is adequate time for a vendor to complete and return a proposal to you.

An RFP is a formal request from your company inviting the client to create a proposal of the work to be completed and provide you with a cost estimate. An RFP does not guarantee anyone the job; it simply formalizes the proceedings of the selection process.

Once you have the vendor’s proposal in place, read it. If the technology to be implemented is not within your grasp or the grasp of anyone in your department, ask for a second opinion. Hire an IT consultant whom you trust, who is somewhat familiar with the technology to be implemented, and have him read the proposals and rate them. Having another set of eyes look over the proposals can help you make a more informed decision.

Once you have made your decision on which vendor the project is awarded to, get the scope of the project in writing, including the price, in the form of a contract. The vendor may, and should, have their own contract that they use whenever implementing technology. Review the vendor’s contract, and if necessary have your attorney look it over and make any amendments or changes.

As painful as contracts are, they protect you and the integrator. Contracts should require that the vendor guarantee their work for a specified amount of time. The technology to be implemented will determine the amount of time expressed in the warranty and the type of guarantee provided.

There are many different types of contracts available. Based on the project work, the expected duration of the project, and the relationship between the buyer and seller, the contract type will be determined. Here’s a quick overview of the common contract types and their attributes:

Contract Type


Risk Issues

Cost Plus Fixed Fee(CPFF)

Actual costs plus profit margin for seller.

Cost overruns represent risk to the buyer.

Cost Plus Percentage of Cost (CPPC)

Actual costs plus profit margin for seller.

Cost overruns represent risk to the buyer. This is a dangerous contract type for the buyer.

Cost Plus Incentive Fee(CPIF) 

Actual costs plus profit margin for seller.

Cost overruns represent risk to the buyer.

Fixed Price (FP)

Agreed price for contracted  product. Can include incentives for the seller.

Seller assumes risk.

Lump Sum

Agreed price for contracted product. Can include incentives for the seller.

Seller assumes risk.

Firm Fixed Price (FFP)

Agreed price for contracted product.

Seller assumes risk.

Fixed Price Incentive Fee (FPIF) 

Agreed price for contracted  product. Can include incentives for the seller.

Seller assumes risk.

Time and Materials(T&M) 

Price assigned for the time and materials provided by the seller. 

Contracts without not-to-exceed (NTE) clauses can lead to cost overruns.

Unit Price

Price assigned for a measurable unit of product or time (for example, $130 for an engineer’s time on the project). 

Risk varies with the product. Time  represents the biggest risk if the amount needed is not specified in the contract.

Before any implementation begins, and once the contract details have been worked out, do some prep work before the project begins. For example, if the project is an operating system upgrade on your servers, create a full backup or system image of your servers. If the technology is a new application to be developed with hooks into your database, assign the appropriate levels of access security to the database for the developers, but don’t give the developers greater permission than what they need to accomplish their work. In other words, prepare for the worst-case scenario, but hope that you never have to use it.

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