Successful Multi-Vendor Collaboration to Create an Advanced Digital Learning Ecosystem
Establishing seamless communication between stakeholders and agile processes to ensure on-time project delivery
About the Client
The client is a prestige beauty, fragrance and skincare brand, manufacturing globally, and marketing their products across 150 countries. They own a diverse portfolio of 30 brands, distributed globally through eCommerce channels and retail outlets.
Successfully coordinating and completing deliverables with a second vendor throughout the project.
Agile processes established across vendor teams, to give the client complete visibility into project progress.
The client, a leader in the prestige beauty business, is building an advanced digital learning ecosystem equipped with microlearning, chatbots, and AR/VR capabilities. The goal is to integrate all of their product information and knowledge resources into a unified, well-organized, and scalable repository. And this will be accessible to their numerous in-store and online beauty advisors, operating across the globe. They can have 24x7 easy access to this information via:
Short, targeted, and interactive learning modules that helps them showcase the products in the right manner, to the customers
Quick chatbot responses when they need to answer specific spontaneous queries by customers
The scope of the project involves the learning ecosystem being deployed across all their brands. It also involves solution deployments that will bring together learning ecosystems within each of their regions of operation.
Here's a brief snapshot of the project:
The entire solution is being designed and developed in a decoupled manner, with Drupal as the powerful backend repository, and the frontend being rendered using a mix of client-side technologies.
With over fifteen years of Drupal expertise, Srijan was the client's pick to develop the Drupal backend. However, for the UX design and frontend assets of the learning ecosystem they chose to work with a second vendor (let’s call them Design Partners), based out of Pune, India.
The client, Srijan, and Design Partners were now the major stakeholders in the project.
This wasn’t the first time Srijan was working in a multi-vendor set up, but it was certainly the largest, both in terms of the scale of the solution and number of people involved in the project.
Team Structure and Organization
Based on the scope of the project and client’s requirements, here what the team structure looked like:
Team Strength: Srijan dedicated a team of 39 people to the project, while Design Partners dedicated a team of 30.
Business Analyst: The Business Analysts(BA) from Srijan was tasked with gathering all client requirements and translating them into action items an deliverables for both teams.
Scrum Master: The primary Scrum Master, from Srijan, was responsible for ensuring that the deliverables meet client’s brand expectations, maintaining sync between Srijan and Design Partners teams, and resolving any challenges or conflicts between them.
SPOCs: A primary SPOC was appointed from the Srijan team, and is responsible for presenting a unified progress report to the client. All client communication and coordination happens through the primary SPOC. There is also a secondary SPOC, appointed from Design Partners, who can take over for the primary SPOC if required.
Delivery Managers: There are delivery managers appointed by both Srijan and Design Partners, to ensure smooth flow of work by both teams.
Every project inevitably runs into certain coordination challenges, and with a multi-vendor project those challenges can get multiplied. So right from the outset, Srijan and Design Partners focussed on setting up processes and routines that were mutually acceptable, and would help them stay on track.
Each aspect of the project was mapped out, and detailed processes created for each of them:
Requirement Gathering: The requirement gathering phase involved the Srijan BA working closely with the client teams to understand their requirements for their learning ecosystem
Delivery Roadmap: Post requirement gathering, delivery managers from both Srijan and Design Partners sat down with the client to finalize the delivery roadmap. This involved deciding on the key deliverables, and setting acceptable timelines for all teams.
Sprints: The delivery process was broken down into two-week sprints, with all stories being created, updated, and tracked on JIRA boards. This ensured that both teams have visibility into each other's work and progress. This was crucial to maintaining transparency and having all team members on the same page.
Daily Sync: Srijan and Design Partners teams have two daily syncs, lasting 15 minutes each. The first sync is for the entire team, where the developers go over the tasks in the sprint board, and update on their progress and challenges. The second sync is between the team Scrum Masters, to review if both teams are in alignment, and if any changes need to be made to the current sprint.
Weekly Sync: The weekly syncs are when both teams get together with the SPOC from the client's end to review project progress. These syncs, happening at least once a week, are reserved for planning the next sprint, understanding any new requirements, and obtaining feedback on the work done. These sessions alternate with weekly demos, where both teams showcase the completed deliverables. The weekly catch-ups are carefully conducted to give the client a complete picture of the progress made along the delivery roadmap, rather than focussing on what each team has done
Feedback Process: The client stakeholders’ feedback on the deliverables are shared on the weekly syncs. This is understood and evaluated by both teams, and then absorbed into the goals for the next sprint. In cases where the feedback applies specifically to the work done by one of the teams, the necessary steps to be taken are discussed and an alignment reached on how they will fit into the sprint plan.
A multi-vendor project at this scale brought its own set of challenges. A lot of these were teething troubles, and were soon resolved as the Srijan and Design Partners teams adjusted to working together. However, there were certain issues that sprang from their differences in work culture and delivery process. Primary among them was ensuring Agile delivery.
Srijan works as per Agile methodologies, ensuring that every project has smooth progress, timely delivery, and flexibility to incorporate necessary changes. However, Design Partners had a different delivery process, and not really compatible with Agile methods. The challenge was to get their team on board with working the Agile way, and working with them to establish a structured delivery process.
Since there was no preparatory time at the start of the project, the complete adjustment between the teams’ processes has happened over the course of the engagement.
Best Practices Learnt
Given the solution deployments required for individual brands, and across regions, work is currently underway on four different projects. It’s been five months since the beginning of the engagement and Srijan and Design Partners have been able to work together, and make timely progress on the delivery roadmap.
Along the way, the Srijan team has also arrived at a set of best practices that help ensure the success of a large-scale multi-vendor project:
Transparency: One of the key learnings has been the need for vendors to be on the same page when it comes to showcasing progress to the client. So all vendors involved in the project need to have visibility into each other's’ work. That will create an understanding of what each of them is doing, how it’s progressing, and what are the challenges. Asking questions, sharing information, and internal sync is critical for us in creating and presenting a complete picture to the client-side stakeholders.
Compatible Processes: Standardized processes are imperative for a successful project execution. So understanding the client’s as well the the vendors’ processes becomes a crucial first step. Given the projects requirements, vendors and clients should then decide upon a set of mutually acceptable processes, and make sure they adhere to those at all times.
Setting Expectations: Communicating the right expectations to the client determines whether the work is seen a progress, or a series of missed deliverables. So all vendors involved in a project like this should be honest about what is achievable in a given sprint, and convey that clearly to the clients. Overcommitting or under committing on the part of one, could lead to rushed deadlines, and compromised quality of work in the future.