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Topic: IT Resourcing

 Avoiding Pitfalls in Supplier Co-creation IT Projects


7 minute read

By Ian C. Tomlin

The promise of co-innovation with suppliers in IT projects is intoxicating: faster innovation, on-tap expertise, and shared risk and rewards. But like any project delivery approach, collaborations can stumble into discordant steps if not carefully navigated.  Here, we shed light on three common pitfalls to avoid, ensuring your co-innovation project stays in tune and delivers its full potential.

In a world demanding constant innovation, traditional, siloed approaches are falling short. Enter co-innovation, a collaborative approach to project delivery where diverse entities—businesses, industry partners, tech experts, universities, researchers, etc.—agree to harmonize their expertise to create groundbreaking solutions.

Co-innovation transcends collaboration. It’s a deep, joint effort to generate novel ideas, share resources, and co-develop solutions. This differs from outsourcing or vendor relationships, where tasks are delegated instead of jointly conceived.  This is the essence of co-innovation.

What Goes Wrong and How to Avoid It

Pitfall No. 1 – Silos

Co-Innovation is not protected from different stakeholder groups choosing to steer their own course, or keep resources to themselves.  When internal teams and suppliers operate in isolation, communication breakdowns, duplicated efforts, and missed opportunities for synergy become inevitable.

Remedy: To counter this, dismantle the invisible walls. Establish frequent communication channels, regular joint reviews, and open data sharing.  Consider collaborative platforms and virtual workspaces to foster real-time interaction and break down departmental barriers.

“Co-creation thrives in interconnected ecosystems where knowledge and resources flow freely,” Charles Leadbeater, Living on Thin Air.

Pitfall No. 2 – Discordant Definitions

Without shared goals and success metrics, co-innovation projects can descend into confusion. Ambiguous objectives and misaligned expectations sow frustration and impede progress.

Remedy:  Align both parties on crystal-clear objectives, milestones, and performance metrics. Employ a well-crafted statement of work (SOW) ecosystem and co-innovation network – like Keiretsu – that outlines deliverables, roles, and responsibilities.  Use data-driven feedback mechanisms to track progress and ensure everyone is dancing to the same beat. Frame project outcomes with Quality Function Design (QFD).

“Without measurement, co-creation becomes a feel-good exercise, not a strategic advantage.” Jeanie Diekmann, author of Leading Beyond


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Pitfall No. 3 – Improvisation and Scope Creep

While agility is co-innovation’s strength, excessive improvisation can turn projects into chaos. Uncontrolled scope creep, unplanned feature additions, and frequent changes in direction can overwhelm resources and derail the project.

The remedy: Choose partners with a track record of running co-innovation projects. Ensure robust project management, with outlining outcomes in a Statement of Work for each contributor entity. 

Build scope creep into project schedules and budgets in the form of a ‘write-downable’ overrun fund and pre-agree what circumstances would warrant the use of this contingency. 

Establish a flexible contracting framework that uses Proactive Law to spell out obligations in a Master Services Agreement that allows for adaptation within defined boundaries.

Employ agile methodologies for iterative development and prioritize phased deliverables.

Foster a culture of open communication and proactive problem-solving to address potential issues before they become discordant notes.

“There are two kinds of companies: those who understand that there are only four kinds of projects – real, late, over budget, and cancelled; and those who haven’t learned that yet.” – Scott Berkun, author of The Art of Project Management

What it takes to make a good digital innovation strategy

Three key takeaways resonate throughout this cautionary tale:

Embrace transparency and break down silos

Build bridges of communication for a truly collaborative ecosystem.

Harmonize on shared goals and success metrics

Ensure everyone dances to the same beat with clear objectives and measurements.

Master the art of structured adaptability

Embrace agility within defined boundaries to avoid chaotic improvisation.

Find a way to navigate through these pitfalls and co-innovation with suppliers promises to transform your IT projects!  I leave the last word to the US baseball player, Casey Stengel:

“There are two things that are hard to hit in life: a knuckleball and a deadline.”

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