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I have had to hire a large number of temporary resources as part of a project. These resources were provided by third party professional services organisations, and were required to work alongside my employer's technical staff. The only criteria for selecting the suppliers was cost, and this was not open to debate (this decision was taken before I was engaged on the project, and I was obliged to accept it).

The project has progressed reasonably well, despite a few wobbles along the way, and I am now starting to think about documenting some "lessons learned". One area that I want to focus on is the criteria for selecting the suppliers of these external resources.

I don't want to focus in on the individuals who were taken on, but I do want to look at the decision making that led to the service companies being selected.

What would be effective ways to select these companies apart from cost? - recognising that the cheapest may only be cheapest because they provide lower grade resources, or fail to provide effective back-up services when things go wrong.

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Here are some criteria you can use in addition to the cost aspect (in bracket the type of evidence/information vendors should provide for you to evaluate):

  • level of experience of resources in your industry (number of years of experience, number of projects worked on, by resource and on average)
  • level of technical skills and experience (number of years of experience, number of resources formally trained, technical certifications, number of technical experts)
  • vendor start-up/staffing capability (how many skilled/experience resources they have available for your project fitting with your timeframe, commitment of resources to duration of project)
  • level of responsiveness and support (how vendor manages resources throughout the project, their ability to address performance and resourcing issues and replace resources quickly)
  • vendor staff turnover (number of years resources have worked for the vendor)
  • cultural fit with your organization (values displayed by your vendor)
  • vendor resources location (where resources are located: this is relevant if for example the vendor needs to secure visas or if resources need to travel extensively to/from your project as this could affect their time spent on project).

In addition you can ask vendors to provide you with the following:

  • proposed resources CVs (ask in a format that suits you), at least for key roles
  • for critical resources (ex. if the vendor provides a resource responsible for major deliverables, for example a project manager or a development lead) I'd recommend you ask to interview them.
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I think it is a common assumption that a supplier's low price would mean lower competencies exhibited by their staff. But that could be very misleading. There are countless reasons a supplier may offer heavily discounted pricing but would have nothing to do with the level of competency of staff. A loss leader comes to mind, if the supplier is trying to show off its other value propositions without price getting in the way.

If able, I would evaluate the health of the pool from which the supplier identifies its candidates. Statistically, most candidates would be rather average. I would think the variety of avenues the supplier uses may increase the likelihood of finding better than average resources, even if only slightly.

I would evaluate how the supplier filters its candidates and what type of indicators its uses to predict future success. If their hiring mechanisms are no more sophisticated than interviews, that would be underwhelming.

On the job, I would evaluate the supplier's responsiveness: how fast can they place and how fast can they intervene for under-performers.

I would not ding them for placing under-performers; that is going to happen no matter their best efforts.

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