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The Paradox of the Designated Survivor

Posted: 05/10/2018 - 03:35
Your Program Manager is the most important person in an outsourcing project.

You have invested months of time – and many thousands of dollars – to reach this point in your outsourcing project. Your scope is defined and you have selected the best service provider in the business. The time has come to let the supplier’s experts loose in your business and watch the savings and efficiencies roll in. 

Or so you thought. 

The success of a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) effort is contingent upon your ability to deliver data to your service provider and the influence to drive change within your organization – usually under the careful leadership of a Program Manager. You can have the most finely planned outsourcing project and a service provider that is the perfect match for the circumstances and opportunity, but if you are unable to deliver data or drive change, the project will not meet anyone’s expectations. 

The primary problem with achieving the stated objectives of an outsourcing project is that, typically, companies use the selection of a Program Manager to retain the best member of the team being outsourced. Even the most impressive employee will falter if they do not have the requisite skills and experience for an outsourcing Program Manager role. 

Your Program Manager is the most important person in an outsourcing project. 

Making sure the Program Manager has the right skills and experience will have a material impact on the success of your program. Success in a role that is being outsourced does not necessarily guarantee the transference of that success to the outsourcing project. In fact, putting your ‘designated survivor’ in charge of the project will almost certainly guarantee unnecessary friction with the service provider, if not outright failure. 

Picture a Program Manager that hasn’t been involved in an outsourcing effort before. This person is not a particularly good influencer and passively manages the project by simply holding the service provider accountable to every detail of the contract so as to ensure “value for money.” Things move slowly. Getting leadership engagement is an uphill battle, and the service provider feels like they are fighting the battle alone and begin to more heavily rely on the contract to protect them against any downside risk should the project fail. The project falls short, perhaps well short, of expectations. 

Things to look out for include: 

  • A strong understanding of the value proposition or competitive advantage associated with the function, roles and processes being outsourced. 
  • Intimate knowledge of your service provider’s delivery model. 
  • An ability to recognize, and manage to, the leading indicators of success. Note: These may be different than contractual metrics. 
  • A fundamental (even natural) ability to build strong relationships and drive change, particularly through new and unpredictable situations. 
  • Aptitude for “selling” the benefits of the program to wary stakeholders in affected positions. 
  • Proactive addressing of issues head on so that oversight meetings become forward-looking strategy or vision sessions. 
  • An ability to integrate your service provider into your company’s culture. 

Without these skills, Program Managers will be limited in their ability to extract the maximum value from the outsourcing project. Take great care in selecting the right person for the job and invest in training so the Program Manager develops or enhances the necessary skill sets. 

Imagine for a moment that the designated Program Manager has great interpersonal skills, the respect of leaders across the company, is able to influence others and fosters a sense of partnership with counterparts at the service provider. Stuff gets done, and it happens fast. Your service provider becomes an extension of your internal team, and they continually go above and beyond to ensure the success of the project. The project exceeds all expectations. 

Preparing for the transition to outsourcing services by identifying the appropriate Program Manager and then providing training and support to her, you significantly increase your chances of success.


About The Author

Phil Ideson's picture

Philip Ideson is the founder, editor and host of the Art of Procurement Network.  His prior experience includes work at Accenture, Ally Financial Inc., and Chiquita Brands International Corporation. 

The Art of Procurement podcast delivers multi-channel learning and development programs to help procurement leaders increase the capabilities of their internal teams.