Client and supplier dynamics in the public sector by Adrian Leer

Fresh from speaking at Digi Leaders Innovation Week, Triad Managing Director Adrian Leer shares his experience and insight on how to create the perfect partnership between client and supplier in the public sector.

When Digi Leaders asked me to speak about client and supplier dynamics in the public sector, I thought back to the examples I have seen over the past 30 years. And then, I reflected on the importance of getting the dynamics right.

Not only do we have an interest in making a profit, but our employees are all citizens, taxpayers and stakeholders in the wider public sector. We have a responsibility to do whatever we can to over-deliver. Here are my thoughts on creating the perfect partnership between client and supplier in the public sector.

  1. Know the ‘why’

Ensure that everyone has an intimate understanding of why work is being done. Don’t be seduced by the temptation to reduce projects to technology endeavours. We recently helped roll out technology to UK prisons. But from the start, our goal was to facilitate a wholesale change to the way rehabilitation is enabled by technology. Knowing that ‘why’ became part of the team’s DNA.

  1. Understand your role

It is amazing how often we start a new project only to find out it is structured completely differently from what we imagined. If full design and delivery responsibility lies with us, then we would set up to lead from the front. If we are “only” providing resources, then I encourage our teams to lead from the back, with an emphasis on ensuring that our staff have a good technical and cultural fit with the skills to coach and guide.

  1. Align on time

Starting on time is one of the first tests of trust in an important relationship. Before the project begins, interrogate the lead times. If the timelines seem impossibly tight, then question them.

  1. Agree a payments process

When delivery teams get into difficult conversations about payment and possible escalation, it can threaten the important sense of togetherness so often essential to delivery success.  Avoid such issues. Agree what PO, statements of work, and receipting are required. If you are the supplier, work hard to present clean invoices to avoid ambiguity. And if you are the client, streamline the approval of invoices, as this can significantly impact the overall cash conversion cycle.

  1. Manage the risk. And fear the worst

We often perform a pre-mortem before a project starts. This is a facilitated exercise where a broad range of project stakeholders are invited to imagine the project failing dismally and to identify what they thought had caused that failure. It feeds nicely into the risk register, but it is also an extremely powerful team-builder and a strong mechanism for identifying underlying concerns about a project.

  1. Be committed

Once the projects start, it is essential to demonstrate both the client and supplier relationship commitment. From a client perspective, I encourage participation from all sides in the right ceremonies, such as sprint reviews. They help foster a “single version of the truth” approach while ensuring that no nasty surprises emerge.

  1. Build goodwill

Building goodwill is contagious. And will help the supplier and customer when the going gets tough.  So, build goodwill early on. Start by sticking to your promises. We use “promise deadlines” so everybody can see everyone doing what they said they would do.

  1. Be open and honest

An old boss of mine used to say, “Share it with me, and I’ll be your partner. Keep it from me, and I shall be your judge”.  Encourage open, honest and timely feedback. Done constructively, it should enhance relationships, not threaten them.  Don’t be afraid to give feedback for fear of it compromising future prospects. It should have the opposite effect as a “critical friend and trusted adviser”.

  1. Be accountable

From a supplier perspective, it is essential not only to say what you have done so far on an engagement but to show it and prove it.  From a client perspective, accountability is about fronting up to your responsibilities – making SMEs available, empowering your product owner, making decisions in a timely fashion, and not going into hiding.

  1. Demonstrate the public sector premium

As a private sector supplier, we recognise that there is a premium of responsibility associated with work in the public sector.  You are spending taxpayer money. You are helping to shape society. You are supporting an under-pressure civil service.  Make sure through deeds and words that your customer sees this. And, as a client, make sure that you expect it.

  1. Never stop working on the relationship

Getting the right dynamics needs work, over and above a focus on delivery.  Remember to take small and frequent calibration steps to build trust and goodwill and discover what works and needs tuning.  Empower yourselves with a pre-mortem; nothing can be worse than that!

We hope that you have found this blog useful. If you have a question for Adrian or would like to speak to one of our team, please get in touch