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Vendors can provide very valuable contributions to our capital projects – but only after we are ready for their involvement.

Yes, they’re very knowledgeable. Yes, they can offer solutions. Yes, they’re nice people, too. But no, they can’t stay. Tell them to leave NOW!

Time and time again I’ve arrived at a project kick-off meeting to find vendors sitting at the table. It could be an IT project with software or hardware technical reps or sales reps from equipment manufacturers. However nice these folks are, they are a serious threat to derailing the project.


I don’t know exactly when the concept of “partnering” with our vendors took hold. It’s been around for at least twenty years and brings valuable improvements to our supply chains. They can also help with problem solving – but we can take it too far and undermine sound decision-making.

Most vendors are well meaning. They don’t come with a malevolent intent to sabotage our decision just to make a sale. However, they come with a narrow perspective (their range of products) and a conflict of interest (their sales bonus). Before inviting vendors to help us on capital projects we must first wrestle with two critical framing activities:

  1. Defining the specific business needs and strategies we are addressing. Vendors don’t know our business needs and strategies as well as we do, plain and simple. Most vendors are prone to jumping right into solutions before we even know what the right question is. This often leads to getting the right answer to the wrong question.
  2. Identifying the business criteria we will use to select the best solution. Again, vendors don’t know our business, so why have them at the table as we develop our selection criteria? Too often have I seen vendors nudge the criteria to align with the strengths of their company’s offerings, stacking the deck in their favor.

Only after we have a solid grasp of what we are really trying to accomplish should we invite our vendor partners back into the room. Now they can offer up their deeper technical skills and broader industry perspective as we brainstorm solutions together.

As knowledgeable and amiable as our vendors may be, we cannot allow them to influence how we frame the question. That influence can permanently skew the work’s direction and result in inferior solutions. Invite them for their technical expertise when we start brainstorming, not to tell us our business.

© Dave Wittenberg