For more than two decades, William West has worked with many of the world’s most admired companies, either as an internal employee or as an external development partner. He recently distilled this extensive experience into a recent article in Learning Solutions Magazine and a new book by the same name. Seven Attributes of Highly Effective Development Vendors is a must-read for those responsible for vendor selection and for vendors alike.  

The genesis of the Seven Attributes

From the book’s outset, West clearly declares that he’s been fortunate over the course of his career. Even the book’s endorsements, written by West’s colleagues and clients, read like a who’s who of companies with large and successful L&D departments. Among other triumphs, West’s good fortune allowed him to build a successful eLearning company, Option Six, where he formed long-lasting partnerships, produced results that led to what he calls “enthusiastic approval,” and really refined the characteristics that make a true difference in an outsourcing relationship.

The concept of the Seven Attributes of Highly Effective Vendors (Figure 1) actually came about as West prepared to speak at a CLO Symposium in 2013. Reflecting on the major successes and unfortunate failures he witnessed in training-development outsourcing, William West has, perhaps for the first time, defined the key qualities that are required to build successful client-vendor relationships that can produce stellar results. Put simply, and in order of importance, West’s seven attributes of highly effective development vendors are: experience, methodology, infrastructure, process, technology, talent, and innovation.

Figure 1:
The seven attributes of highly effective development vendors

Putting the book to work for you

It’s a rare day when a training development team has enough time and ample budget to actually do everything that needs doing. And for a myriad of reasons, we can probably all agree that training development outsourcing is here to stay. Unfortunately, as West argues, the success rate of these outsourcing relationships is abysmal. Regardless of the scope of your needs and reach of your initiatives, how do you know which vendors will be there when the rubber meets the road to get your jobs done … and get them done well?

If you’re tasked with answering these questions, or if you’re a training-development vendor looking to hone your business and craft, then you might consider adding Seven Attributes of Highly Effective Development Vendors to your summer reading list. The book is a quick and enjoyable read and is divided into three main sections. The first section, Chapters 1 and 2, sets the stage with plentiful stories and examples from West’s own experiences. The second section, Chapters 3 through 9, offers an extensive and detailed look under the hood at each of the seven attributes. West provides a thorough discussion of each with reinforcement through good, bad, and just plain ugly examples. The third section, Chapters 10 and 11, sheds light on the RFP and proposal processes, from both the vendor and provider’s perspectives, and general pricing strategies.

At their most basic, you can consider the attributes as follows:

  • Experience: How well does the vendor’s experience align with your company’s needs?
  • Methodology: What instructional-design methodology does the vendor follow? And how well does it apply to what your company needs?
  • Infrastructure: How well can the vendor scale to meet your company’s needs without sacrificing quality?
  • Process: How will the vendor’s process(es) lead to an effective development effort?
  • Technology: What tools does the vendor use to develop, track, and manage the project?
  • Talent: What are the skills and qualifications of the vendor’s staff members who will be dedicated to your company’s project(s)?
  • Innovation: How does the vendor incorporate novel techniques into their workflows? How do they give back to the industry?

Having personally held both roles in the client-vendor relationship, I can say with confidence that West’s book offers sharp wisdom and keen insight, no matter your function. First, as he points out, you can and should apply the seven attributes to any vendor, regardless of the size of their operation. (And, of course, one can even make the argument that you could successfully apply the attributes to a traditional “internal” L&D team as well, but I digress.) Second, the numerous questions that West provides throughout the book will be invaluable to readers in assessing each individual attribute, as well as to help guide their RFP processes.

Why should you read the book?

Make no mistake, William West provides plenty of anecdotes from his experiences that can leave you downright depressed about the state of our industry. With the seven attributes, however, he provides readers with an attainable blueprint of future success. By the way, West defines success as, “The equilibrium when the client has his vision realized and the vendor makes a profit.” Both sides of the equation are equally important, and although he wrote the book primarily for those responsible for hiring vendors, it would be well worth the read for vendors so they may learn and heed William West’s sage guidance as well.

Bibliographic information

West, William. Seven Attributes of Highly Effective Development Vendors: Secrets to Establishing a Successful Client/Vendor Relationship. Quantum7 Publishing, 2014.