A healthy client-vendor relationship is critical to ensure the success of a project, regardless of industry or size. Yet reports have shown that failing software development projects have one thing in common – somewhere along the way, communications between client and vendor have turned sour.


Effective communication is incredibly valuable in the workplace between client and vendor, and transparency is a huge part of this. Sharing the project successes with your client is great, but it is also important not to bury your head in the sand when something becomes a concern. Pretending everything is ok when it in fact isn’t, might only jeopardise the project more, resulting in a bigger failure.

The stats:

  • 75% of business and IT executives anticipate their software projects will fail (medium.com, 2017)
  • 40% of CIOs say some of the main reasons IT projects fail is an overly optimistic approach and unclear objectives (The Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey, 2017)
  • 77% of high-performing organisations have actively engaged project sponsors, while only 44% of low-performing organisations do (PMI’s Pulse of Profession Survey, 2017)

There are a number of real-life cases that highlight the importance of a healthy client-vendor relationship, with one example being the #censusfail of 2016. The 2016 Census was Australia’s 17th national Census of Population and Housing. An online option to complete the Census was added in 2006, with 2016 being the first Census to be digital first.

On Census night, things didn’t quite run as smoothly as originally planned. 2.2 million households completed the online form successfully, but suddenly, due to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, the online form suffered a series of outages. Attempts were made to restore the system, however a fourth attack led to the failure of one of the supplier’s router’s, compounding network issues. The network performance monitoring system indicated unusual outbound traffic from the systems, which was indeterminable as malicious or benign. The decision was made to close the online form, as a pro-privacy precaution for the Australian public, and the form did not open again until 1 day and 18 hours later.

It has been suggested that the nature, complexity and risk of the change process was underestimated by The ABS from the beginning. After a review of the events surrounding the Census fail of 2016, a number of recommendations were made, with one being the development of a formal procurement strategy.

Founder and Chief of Innovation of Solentive, Kareem Tawansi, agrees that a poor procurement process can lead to these problematic situations arising.

“Often people enter into big contracts without understanding clearly what they are procuring,” says Tawansi.

What follows is an uphill battle between client and vendor, often reaching a point of frustration and inefficiency that is beyond repair.

According to Tawansi, business relationships are just like any other relationship, and there are emotions attached to all successful relationships. To develop an effective relationship, there must be a personal element involved – “a level of mutual understanding and respect for one another.”

At the same time, the vendor must find the balance between managing the client relationship and ensuring the project achieves the expected return on investment for its client.

“All successful projects are the result of a journey, not just a contract,” explains Tawansi. “That journey is one that the vendor and client take together as one of discovery, continuity, constant communication and shared outcomes.”

In his experience, Tawansi advises the best way to build a long-term relationship is to meet face-to-face as often as possible. “A high amount of face time will help build and maintain a strong connection between client and vendor.”

Chief Operating Office of Solentive, Rebecca Swinfield, has outlined her key takeaways for a successful partnership between client and vendor as follows:

  • Setting the project up for success from the very start with the correct contracts – when drawing up a contract, the wording should be collaborative and focused on how you intend to operate with one another
  • Choosing clients / vendors with shared values – cooperation and striving towards a shared goal is made a lot easier if both parties share the same values
  • Setting expectations upfront and managing them – defining specific expectations is key, and regular check-ins to communicate progress of the project ensures everyone is on the same track and the expectations are still realistic
  • Seeking clarity from each other – often understanding each other’s different view point results in a solution or “third way” being reached that each person understands and that works for both parties

These days, the term “collaboration” appears often, but it isn’t as easy as people make it sound. Collaboration requires effort and dedication from all involved stakeholders, but if you are willing to put in the hard work, then you are much more likely to succeed.

By cultivating a healthy client-vendor relationship, vendors and clients become more than just parties to a contract. A true business partnership is the key to a successful project, where visions and expectations combine towards the same goal.