How Not To Let Subcontractors Screw Up Your Project

project communication transparent

“Mirror, mirror on the wall. How my project’s going on?”
Anna Vasilevskaya

Would you be calm and cool-hearted if you’d need to give your baby to completely unknown people for a couple of months? I don’t think so. You definitely would like to see your baby every day, know that it is healthy and talk to the hosts to know how your baby behaves. Similar thing with forwarding your project to a subcontracting company. Are the works properly done? Are they going to meet the deadlines? Don’t they hide anything from me? Those questions would appear in the mind of a new customer during the entire project.

Subcontractor may play a role of an experienced “adult” in IT for a customer who is new in the nearshoring business to ensure his work is in safe hands. In this article I’ll try to show you an approach that will help you to be independent from your and your subcontractor’s experience level. The only way to do that is to make the development process for the customer as transparent as possible. In this case provided information represents a base for a successfully managed and transparent project. How is it better to do that? For his own benefits a customer should always try to take care about the information to be SOLID, COMPLETE and WELL-TIMED.

If FixedPrice model is chosen – no problem, all the risks are on the side of a supplier i.e. subcontractor. But working on Time&Material basis implies that subcontractor makes available for the customer to observe and control the project being carried out. If a customer has no idea about the current status, if he/she doesn’t trust enough to the subcontractor, he/she feels the need to double check everything and that makes him distracted from his/her direct tasks.

So, when you come to an agreement about the information provided by the subcontractor, you have to consider it through the three main perspectives.


SOLID. It is one of the most important goals for a subcontractor – making customer sure you give him precise and true information. Speaking simply – that you don’t tell lies. If provided information is wrong, the customer is just misled. This easily can contribute to wrong interpretations and false decisions. To prevent those situations the customer definitely needs to crosscheck the information provided to him. Definitely not everything has to be checked all the time, it is too time and efforts consuming. It has to be found an efficient scheme to check the information from time to time and in various spots. In this way customer can find aсcidental, but sometimes even intentional misstatements by subcontractor. By no means you should try to stop him doing that. Again this is completely up to the customer how often and how firmly this will happen.

COMPLETE. Basically customer has to be sure that the subcontractor doesn’t hide anything unpleasant or vice versa anything important. Information hiding can be vital when any bottle necks appear. It is more efficient to inform customer on short notice and find solutions together than hide the details and then surprise him with a bunch of problems. Customer also has to decided how deep into details he would like to drop. Usually it depends on the subcontract level. If you see that subcontractor is quite weak, it is better to require more details: what was done? when? who did it? why? could we have done it in other way? The more experienced the subcontractor is, the less information you can demand from him. Depending on that you can choose among a couple of convenient tools, which allow doing that quite easy and productive:

  • Surface level. Weekly Status Report (WSR). It is prepared every week (surprise-surprise!) by a project manager and includes all the important points of works done during previous week, planned activities, new agreements, open questions and project milestones. WSR can be customized to each customer’s needs. By the way it also helps PM to keep all the significant information in one place.
  • A deeper level. Time and task tracking in customer’s systems. God bless the person who invented them! Jira, Redmine, Trello, Breeze and so on. Reporting into customer’s systems gives him the possibility to see how much time was spent on what tasks. This also gives the opportunity to harness subcontractor’s work attaching priorities.
  • The deepest level. Daily online meetings. An interactive addition to WSRs. They can be held via Skype, TeamViewer, Hangouts, Webex etc. They help to maintain direct two-way communication with developers and managers. Developers give an idea about what they’ve done, what they are planning to do, ask questions. Customer gets the latest information about how the project is going.

WELL-TIMED. In other words all solid and complete information has to be provided to customer in proper time. The earlier the problem is detected, the easier it can be solved. To react accurately and solve possible problems the most suitable way, perhaps together with the customer, it is needed to adjust some alerting mechanism, which could use above mentioned tools (WSR, meetings) to present the information. This feature is connected closely to the TRUTH feature, they complement each other. This is perhaps the most flexible feature, as the customer is free to choose how often he’d like to get the reports.

Based on the above I can mark out two general conclusions.

  1. Typically the customer has to spend more efforts on controlling information to be solid and complete as well as frequent double checking, if subcontractor isn’t experienced enough. The more experience, the less efforts for controling him.
  2. Both customer and subcontractor should aim to bring the balance among solid, complete and well-timed to the most suitable corellation for them. So customer needs to define how much effort each feature must take. If he feels that information is solid and comes in time, but it isn’t complete enough, he needs to discuss with subcontractor how to improve it. Perhaps WSRs are not accurate or meetings should be held more often.

Basically try to follow the Pareto principle – roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

In our turn, we’re curious, how do you manage your work with subcontractors? What kind of experience do you have: did you raise a bump or everything was on wheels? Or perhaps you have your own ideal recipe how to “prepare & cook” subcontracting workflow?

Anna Vasilevskaya
Skype ID: anna.vasilevskaya
Business Development Manager
*instinctools EE Labs

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