How to collaborate: Six lessons from BT Expedite

1. Have the commercial discussion early and agree the ground rules before you begin. Is the customer jointly funding a specific project or taking a stake in the supplier's product or even a wider business venture? Does the customer get an exclusivity period or maybe priority in specifying features for future releases of the product?

1. Have the commercial discussion early and agree the ground rules before you begin. Is the customer jointly funding a specific project or taking a stake in the supplier's product or even a wider business venture? Does the customer get an exclusivity period or maybe priority in specifying features for future releases of the product?

2. Collaboration projects are not for beginners. You are managing different priorities in different organisations and there will inevitably be conflicts and, on occasion, irresolvable conflicts. Your people need to be confident of their own abilities, be empathetic and possess top communication skills. So does the other side. And everyone needs to be working as a properly structured virtual team with all parties operating under a single governance structure.

3. Don't be afraid if your customers' business processes are different from each other. One of the benefits of collaboration is that the vendor gets to build the product to incorporate more than one way of doing things. Equally, the customers benefit from having their world view challenged by their peers. So, be prepared to challenge and to be challenged. The end result will be better because you can jointly remove unnecessary features and complexity from the product, and the customer project will be lower risk because you have jointly agreed the solution and how it will work in practice.

4. You have to trust each other. Senior sponsorship on all sides is critical, but the people who do the work need to meet regularly, face to face. And not just across the boardroom table, some social time is vital too. There has to be mutual respect, otherwise one side or the other risks being bullied into a corner. Customers need to ensure that the vendor is willing to keep talking even when the project is off track and a recovery plan yet to be agreed.

5. Make sure you are not just collaborating on the code. The complete solution needs to include how the product will be implemented and supported, as well as an agreement on the new business processes sustained by the product.

6. Celebrate success. The job isn't complete until the project has bagged an award.

Jason Shorrock is programme director for multichannel retail, BT Expedite

  • The next CW500 Club meeting on 17 November will look at how to collaborate effectively with your peers. CIO at Aurora Fashions John Bovill, head of IS services at the Victoria and Albert Museum Sarah Winmill and business change manager at Surrey County Council Nick Roberts will all speak at the event.

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