By Emel Firtina, Kepner-Tregoe 

Business ecosystems are complex and when problems occur, they often extend beyond the direct sphere of influence of your company. In these situations, it makes sense to leverage the knowledge, experience and capacity of vendors to help your company develop a plan of corrective and preventative action. But keep in mind that when it comes to a solution, the ultimate accountability still resides with you. 

Just because you leverage a vendor to analyze the problem, determine the root cause and make a recommendation, doesn’t mean your company is relieved from your due-diligence responsibility. You can (and should) hope that your vendor partners are always acting in your company’s best interests, but this is often not the case.

  • Vendors look at a problem from their perspective not yours.
  • You probably aren’t their only customer, so they may have conflicting interests and priorities.
  • Vendors recommend solutions that are best for them not necessarily best for you.

Fortunately, you can find a set of skills and processes to validate vendor recommendations in your root cause analysis toolkit. Here are 8 activities that you should perform before accepting a vendor recommendation and implementing it in your organization.

  1. Verify the problem exists in your environment – Most vendors support multiple customers and implementations of their products. When a problem is identified, the vendor works to develop a fix and will likely recommend it to all of their customers. The challenge arises when the underlying problem was specific to the implementation environment of another customer and doesn’t exist in your environment. Without verifying that the same problem is present, implementing the fix could potentially cause additional issues and make the troubleshooting process more difficult.
     
  2. Ask for data to support that the diagnosis and troubleshooting was confident and correct. Vendors are under intense pressure (through SLAs, contracts and interpersonal relationships) to diagnose problems and provide resolutions quickly. This can lead them to rely on false assumptions, guesses and incomplete diagnosis. A few probing questions about the vendor’s confidence and troubleshooting techniques can improve your confidence in their diagnosis and recommendations.
     
  3. Review symptoms vs. cause analysis to see if there is another underlying (true or related) root cause in your environment. Vendors can’t always see the big picture of your company’s operating environment – potentially blinding them from seeing related issues and identifying hidden and multiple-cause situations. By reviewing the vendor’s analysis, you may be able to identify factors obscured from their view.
     
  4. Assess the impact/risk of the problem (and recommended solutions) in the context of your operations. A vendor will never understand your company as well as you do internally. Nuanced risks and impacts can play a big role in determining the efficacy of a solution.
     
  5. Consider if you have alternatives in-house or from another vendor. In most situations, there are multiple-options, and some may not be presented to you as the vendor is limited by the options on what solutions they can recommend. Often, there are alternative courses of action that can be taken either in-house or with the aid of a different vendor to address the same problem.
     
  6. Perform your own cost/benefit analysis. Just because a solution has been identified doesn’t mean you should implement it. Every action has a cost, and impact, a risk and an opportunity cost (the things you won’t be doing if you choose this option) and when you combine these together, you may find that sometimes it is better to live with the problem than implement the proposed remedy.
     
  7. Consider the feasibility of implementing the recommendation in the context of other planned changes - looking for technical conflicts, capacity constraints and change management impacts. These will help you assess both the overall feasibility of the change considering the other things going on within your operations and inform decisions on timing and the implementation plan.
     
  8. Determine if the recommendation is a corrective action or preventative action. It is important to understand the intent of the recommendation - resolving a situation that already exists, preventing a situation from occurring in the future, or both.

Applying these root cause analysis techniques consistently can enable you to leverage the recommendations vendors with confidence-knowing you done your due diligence and are making sound decisions to support your company’s future.

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