Everything you need to know about Using the PDCA Model To Improve Finding An Outsource Supplier
everything you need to know abou using the PDCA model to improve finding an outsource supplier

You are quietly doing your job managing one or more development teams when you get an urgent call. The project needs to be done super quick as the client has accelerated needs and this is now the number one project in the company. This is the point you regret not being more prepared, you have no list of go-to favourite and trusted suppliers, and the pressure is on for quick results and a big success. What do you do? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about using the PDCA model to improve finding an outsource supplier.

Everything you need to know about using the PDCA Model to Improve Finding an Outsource Supplier

To ensure you have everything you need to know it is best to set the scene and give you a quick overview of PDCA. After that we will look at how PDCA can help in specific situations when looking for a supplier to outsource development work.

Typical Starting Problems When You Need An Outsourced Supplier

Based upon my experience these are typical problems you may have when considering outsourcing :

  1. A high level scope exists but no detailed definition of the project, issues or potential solution.
  2. Detailed  documented requirement but no idea of where to start to find a supplier.
  3. Well defined documented requirements exist but no idea of the suitability of potential suppliers (skill set, quality, availability, ease of communication).

What is PDCA?

PDCA is an abbreviation for Plan-Do-Check-Act which is a model for continuous improvement. It is drawn in a circular fashion as the cycle repeats. The repetition allows for further improvement cycles so if a change doesn’t work a different technique can be tried.  It is quite old and originally comes from PDS, Plan-Do-See, developed by Shewart in the 1920’s. This was further developed by the quality guru Deming into PDCA in the 1950’s. PDCA is great for improving existing processes or implementing change. Its ability to help with change is what I want to highlight and explore in this article.

pdca circle

So how does the model work?

  • Plan – before you do a change, decide what you are going to alter and what result you are expecting.
  • Do – implement the change.
  • Check – Analyse the result of the adjustment and see if the actual outcome is better or worse than the expected outcome.
  • Act – if the outcome was favourable then lock in the modification. If the result was below expectation then act by doing something different, and create a new plan and repeat the cycle.

Using PDCA When There is No Documented Definition

If you have an urgent need, but no definition then a way to tackle this is to go through iterative steps or PDCA cycles to develop the description.

  • Plan – provision to ask the supplier to develop the specification.
  • Do – the supplier writes this document.
  • Check – you check the document. Has the supplier understood the project and issues?, have they managed to document them effectively?, is the work of a high enough quality and was it delivered on-time?
  • Act – either try another supplier or continue with the same supplier to the next phase. Ask for refinements in the way you work with the supplier where  there is opportunity for improvement.

A good way to also assess the skills of a supplier and engage them is to get the supplier to write the requirement specification. They can do this through a variety of methods:

  • 1:1 interviews and chats
  • A group workshop to elicit requirements
  • Studying the existing product and documentation

Applying PDCA to Find an Outsource Supplier

If you don’t have an existing supplier or know where to start then you will need a strategy. Depending on your approach to risk and the amount of urgency to start you can use a variety of strategies:

Strategies for this phase:

  • Search and stop when you find first viable supplier
  • Repeated search and assessment of  each supplier as they are found, if they are suitable then stop otherwise keep searching 
  • Fully research the market, narrow down the market, and get a short list of potential suppliers
  • Create an RFP (request for proposal) and send this out to a selection of suppliers to get proposals.
  • Research the market, get a shortlist of suppliers and send them an RFP (request for proposal). Fully assess and review all proposals received.

Search methods you can use:

  • Internet search engine (google, bing or your favourite) to search for a supplier.
  • General business directory (typically location based and generic).
  • Niche directory of businesses for a particular skill set or service (such as software development) such as https://outsource.dev
  • Get recommendations from colleagues and friends.

Once you have selected your strategy (or strategies) then you can apply PDCA and start the search process.

  • Plan – create a plan on how to findand assess suppliers.
  • Do – Execute the search 
  • Check – if one or more suppliers have been found that meet initial criteria.
  • Act – Either continue the inquiry if one has not been found or modify the search process (expand the scope, change the criteria) or short list the suppliers you have found.

Employing PDCA to Check Outsource Supplier Suitability

If you want to check and qualify the suitability of a supplier then the criteria needs to be established, typically their ability in areas:

  • Deliver on time (vs plan).
  • Speed of delivery with in a specific time period.
  • Expertise to define highly technical tasks that requires specialists.
  • Clarity of communication when understanding requirements and explaining issues and potential solutions.

There are then an array of strategies you can choose:

  • Get materials from the supplier e.g. case studies, example projects, sample CVs of developers to show competence and experience.
  • Obtain externally validated evidence such as Certificates (ISO27001/ISO9001), certificates showing developers competency, testimonials and reviews from previous clients
  • Perform a test project and appraise how the supplier performed against your own criteria and standards.

A test project performing a limited amount of the main project is a good way to assess all of the supplier capabilities and how they communicate and interact with your business.

  • Plan – what is the scope and size of this initial project? What is your expectation and measure of success? How much can you risk if it doesn’t achieve the result you want? If time is an issue and there are several suppliers do you need to spend more money to implement several separate projects at the same time? Do these need to be identical to allow easy comparison or can they be different to allow the option to get some level of value from them all?
  • Do – execute the project and track it to collect information as the project proceeds. 
  • Check – record and compile all of your feedback and observations – both objective and subjective. 
  • Act – determine if there is an applicable supplier or if the supplier can become suitable with some minor changes in the way they work. If no supplier is suitable then consider repeating the process but capture and summarise the learnings. Consider sharing these with any future party to try and ensure the best chance of success on any future trial.

Final Thoughts on PDCA and Outsourcing

The key to successful engagement of an outsourced development supplier is clarity and a structured approach. PDCA and its Plan-Do-Check-Act steps is a method that is suitable to help with finding and choosing a supplier, and can be used in various ways and stages. There are other methods and tools that can be used but if you are new to outsourcing then PDCA is a good a place to start. We have now reached the point where you now have learnt everything you need to know about using the PDCA model to improve finding an outsource supplier so good luck with your hunt.

Downloads and Further Information

Another model is TOTE (Test-Operate-Test-Exit)  that uses a feedback loop to implement a change to achieve a new state and is similar to PDCA in the iterative approach to reach a goal.

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