What are the Best Project Management Practices for Working with Vendors?

Account for Buffer in the Timeline

Ask the vendor if their timeline they put together for the project includes a buffer or contingency time. If they do, ask how much buffer time they have accounted for. You may need to adjust based on how well you know your team’s capabilities or include yourself if they didn’t account for any buffer.

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Setup Communication Channels


Setup a regular cadence of meetings with the vendor to discuss big ticket items, host training and make decisions. Usually topics of discussion in these meetings can wait a week.


Use email for mid-size items. Usually topics of discussion need to be answered/resolved within that week. Use it for delivering documents/deliverables and announcements, particularly those that need to run across the whole project team or project stakeholders.


Use a common messenger application, such as Slack, for quick one-offs and Q&A where you expect a quick response.

Control Communications

When it comes time to start a project, the project manager must decide the approach they want to use when it comes to controlling communications.
There are 2 main options and I will share with you when it’s best to use one over the other.

1) Allow the vendor to freely communication with team members and stakeholders.

  • I recommend this approach over the latter that way you don’t become of bottleneck to the communication flow lines. However, I recommend to put some protocols in place. I generally don’t need to be included on every instant message, however it vendor communication_AdobeStock_145503508.jpeg
    there is an option to have a Channel on the instant messenger then I will definitely be on that. As for emails, I ask to be CC’d on one’s where information and decisions have been shared, but not necessarily scheduling logistics unless I am in the meeting. I also ask to be included in every meeting, but made optional on the one’
    s where I am not needed, that way I know when it’s going on and that movement is happening. It also serves as a reminder for me to either pop in 5 minutes before it ends to see the resulting action items or follow up with the attendees on how it went. If using Outlook, I let the meeting host know, if I don’t accept the meeting then it means I am not planning on attending on to not wait for me but that way it still shows up on my calendar, rather than declining and having it disappear.


  • I will identify for the team their roles and who needs to be included on what types of communications that way I setup the pathways, and they just need to take them.

2) Limit the communication touch points of the vendor with your team members or stakeholders.

The only reason I would do this is if there are politics involved and if I have the bandwidth or assistance of an associate PM to do so. For example, if I am advised by my project sponsor to do so, or if some of the team members are averse to the particular vendor we are working with, or if the vendor is proving difficult to work with from the beginning then I might shelter the team from the back and forth frustrations in order to save moral. In the latter scenario, I may have to have several prep meetings before I host larger meetings that way I get team members to work out their frustrations with a select few individuals rather than expose the whole group to them.

Decide on your Assignment Management Platform

In most cases, you will have your own internal project or ticket management system and so will the vendor. The decision that needs to be made is how you will leverage them and then once you do make a decision, stick to it.PM platform

1) I recommend in most cases, when you can to get the vendor set up in your own internal system as users. The reasons being that you will be more effective in tracking resource allocation and budget as well as reporting on projects if that is valued highly in your situation. In some cases, if you are paying the vendor a pretty penny, then take the luxury of asking them to be in charge of the project administration component for you in your system, meaning during planning meetings they create the tasks and assign out and update meetings, they make the changes and you guide and direct. This is especially helpful for busy project managers (PMs) who are juggling more than one project as long as you are careful not to lose touch with the project as it still requires management. You may have to spend some time upfront training them on how to use it, but it’s well worth it. If this doesn’t fly then settle for having them just update their own tickets. It obviously depends on the kind of leverage you have with them. In my experience, most vendors won’t say no, so it’s a smart way to get a lot more done and focus your attention on other critical areas of the project.

2) If option A is unavailable, then your 2nd option is to get all of your internal team members logins into the vendor’s project management system. The reason for this is you still want to leave all task management in the hands of the team members and since it’s the vendor’s system, they are more likely to take the lead on project administration if you ask them to. Although project metrics can still be reported on, plugging it into a holistic view of the overall work your team is doing won’t necessarily be as clear. One advantage of this option is that this will give you exposure to other project management systems and potential best practices which will help in expanding your knowledge

3) Option C is to manage dual systems – yours and the vendors. I only recommend option C, if you are unable to do either A or B or managing resources and budget becomes too complex to do in an outside system or there is no API. You want to avoid this option because it will literally double the time you spend doing project administration. I recommend only doing this for small projects with fewer internal resources as it can easily get out of control.

Don’t subject yourself to rookie mistakes and use these recommended best practices when working with a vendor on your next project. These will help you be better able to deliver on time, keep up team moral and help you keep your sanity.


One thought on “What are the Best Project Management Practices for Working with Vendors?

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Microsoft Project Best Practices for Project Managers | LAUNCH!

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