The Vendor Principle – Managing the Vendor Element of Scrum Teams

FPI-Management-Multifamily-VendorsTODAY’S workforce is highly diverse more than ever. It goes beyond gender or race diversity. Now the diversity of the workforce has a new dynamic to consider regarding contractors. There has always been a compliment of contractors in the work place. Many companies acquire the services of 3rd party vendors to supply their company with the skill sets they need to compete in the marketplace. However, the tide has shifted a bit. Once companies hired a small number of contractors to augment their staff. Today some companies go as far as to build the majority of their IT team with contractors. In some cases, upwards of 75% of the company’s knowledge assets are in the hands of contractors. When teams are formed with a mixture of contractors from multiple vendors working alongside full time team members (FTE), team dynamics rise to a whole new level of complexity. Compound this situation with team members who are remote and it becomes a spaghetti of issues a team must face.

Having worked with many types of teams, the most challenging have been those that possess a combination of multiple vendors, FTE and remote team members. This blend of diversity surfaces behavior and actions which make supporting agile values and principles highly difficult. For the purposes of this blog, the focus will be on the vendor dynamic and its impact on teams. With many contractors coming from outside of the U.S., deportation and maintaining work visa becomes the primary concern of the contractor. Secondly, being a contractor in and of itself causes many behaviors and thinking that a coach or scrum master must unwind. Proving worth and obtaining FTE status or promoting the vendor becomes the primary focus. These focal points surface toxins such as territorialism, inferiority complex, conservatism and competitiveness.

Territorialism – there is a fear of losing one’s job or responsibilities. A reluctance to share responsibility or knowledge with other team members emerges. Work and knowledge is hoarded to increase individual value rather than team value.

Inferiority complex – a belief develops that suggestions on how to improve a product or process are not welcomed. Ideas from FTE are more valued than ideas from contractors. This stifles creativity, innovative ideas and provokes silence from team members.

Conservatism – a reluctance to take chances, explore or make mistakes emerges. Focus is diverted from delivering value towards following the status quo.

Competitiveness – vendor worth is promoted over team value. Unhealthy conflict materializes within the team as team members from various vendors vie to become THE vendor of choice for the company.

Agile coaches navigate organizational impediments to create a self-organizing team consistently delivering value. The vendor principle creates behaviors that oppose agile values and principles which contests the premise of consistently delivering value. How do we maneuver through this tangled web? First and foremost, by raising awareness. When teams are created, consider the possibility of creating potential undesirable behavior by mixing team members from different vendors together on a team. Make visible the challenges this situation can cause and provide suggestions to avoid this state.

Treatment of contractors is also key. I’ve seen firsthand a FTE telling a vendor they don’t have to listen them and they just need to do what they are told. The more a person feels as though they are part of the company, the more they will speak up, present great ideas and become role models and leaders. When I managed contractors, I went out of my way to make them feel like they were part of the team. I provided them the same luxuries and benefits as the FTEs on my team. In return, the contractors stopped behaving like order takers. Instead they become innovators, leaders and vital assets to the company by contributing and thinking outside the box. Contractor attrition was reduced.

Another point to consider is the vendor’s contract. Contract review is vital to ensure the contract itself doesn’t promote anti-agile behaviors. A common area that supports anti-agile behavior is the vendor’s method of reward and recognition. Development managers should work with vendor managers to align reward systems with agile values and principles. Remove any behaviors or language in the contract that would make contractors less likely to demonstrate the preferred behavior and thinking. Lastly, consider converting contractors to full time employees. Reduce the reliance on contractors and maintain a stable balance of knowledge with FTE. Instead of an 80%/20% split of knowledge in the hands of contractors, make it more even with a 40%/60% ratio. Placing a large amount of a company’s knowledge assets in contractors can be risky and dangerous for the company.

Aside from coaching the organization on the Vendor Principle, we also coach the team members. Getting team members to see beyond the “us” vs. “them” mindset is essential to the team working together as a unified system. Noting the anti-agile behavior, reinforcing the agile values and principles and conducting 1-on-1 coaching in addition to team coaching will help bridge the chasm between vendor to vendor to FTE anti-behaviors. The more teams focus on their similarities and common purpose, the less likely they think are to focus on outside factors that butt against their shared purpose. The vendor principle is real and adds another dimension to the team and organizational dynamic. Working with your teams and the organization to make the vendor element less of a problem will create a more uniform aligned purpose for both the organization and the teams.

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